Legislative Wrap-Up: Equality

Montana Human Rights Act

Efforts to add gender identity and expression and sexual orientation to the Montana Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination, failed in the legislature. Our state lacks basic anti-discrimination protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and adoption. That means it’s currently legal — unless you live in one of the five cities that has passed a local ordinance — for people to be fired from their job or denied housing just because they’re LGBTQ+.  

This legislation will remain a priority for FMT in all future sessions because all Montanans deserve the opportunity to earn a living and take care of their family with dignity and respect.

Indigenous Justice

There was incredible work done to expand indigenous justice and equity in Montana, especially to address the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis in our state. You can view a full report card on how YOUR legislators voted on MMIW issues over at the Indigenous Organizer’s Coalition Facebook page.

Hanna’s Act, one of those bills, passed the House with flying colors in the early days of the session. And, yet somehow it was still dragged out to the end days of the session! But the bill finally passed the Senate. This will require the Department of Justice to create a new position that will specifically handle missing person cases.

Because of the incredible efforts of Indigenous-led organizations and their allies, a bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day made it further than it ever has before. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t make it across the finish line and Columbus Day lives on in our state. But, seven states have already ditched the holiday, usually in favor of Indigenous People’s Day. Missoula and Bozeman already celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead. So the tide is turning, y’all.

Legislative Wrap Up: Voting Rights

Ok, so we took kind of an L on this one, y’all. But let’s review the two major types of voting rights legislation that was considered this year.

Youth Enfranchisement

Two bills that would’ve been awesome — allowing 16-year-olds to be election judges and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote — went down this session. These bills were brought by Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, the youngest legislator in the state (he was first elected when he was only 18!) with the help of a group of badass high school activists. The idea is that if you introduce young people to the act of voting and the elections process, they’ll feel more empowered to vote in the future — and, they’re more likely to be voters for the rest of their lives!

We know that young Montanans are ready to engage, but they need the opportunity to do so. Montana had the largest youth voter turnout increase in the country between the 2014 and 2018 midterms. You can learn more about the breakdown by county in this Daily Interlake article. 

And while you’re reading, don’t forget to check out this awesome op-ed by Montana high schoolers about the importance of engaging young folks — and holding legislators accountable for voting against enfranchisement.

Elections Modernization

This session also saw bills for automatically registering everyone who gets a driver’s license, online voter registration and having the Secretary of State’s office pay for return postage on ballots. Unfortunately, these were all killed too.  

Many of these went down because our Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, according to legislators, routinely sent his staff into hearings this session with “alternative” budget analyses of bills that way overpriced the cost of databases that would allow for voter modernization. It’s *unclear* why a Secretary of State would oppose legislation that would make elections… both more secure and easier to engage in. Unless, you know, voter suppression was part of your platform. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What the Helena: Week 14 Midweek Update

Hello folks. 

It’s not Sunday, but I’m sliding into your DMs anyways because the equivalent of a week’s worth of updates has been crammed into TWO DAYS OF LEGISLATING.  I wanted to give y’all a Wednesday update on some big wins! We’ll make it brief. Let’s go.

Medicaid Expansion Passes

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to preserve the health insurance of 96,000 Montanans by continuing Medicaid expansion in our state! HB 658 will now head back to the House, where it already passed once, for a couple more votes and then will be off to the governor’s office to be signed.

I know I’ve asked you to make approximately ONE MILLION phone calls about Medicaid this session, but now I’m asking for one more: a thank you. Yeah, yeah, I’ve gone all motivational speaker on you. But, twenty-eight Montana senators voted in favor of the program, including a few of our targets, and we should drop them a line to let them know we appreciate them hearing us. That’s what this shit is all about, right? Call (406)444-4800 or leave them a message here.

Fighting for Farmers & Ranchers

HB 431, which will provide debt assistance to young farmers and ranchers, passed the Senate! It also needs another vote in the House because of a few amendments. This bill will help young folks who graduate from the Montana University System break into agriculture by reducing their debt burden, preserving the future of both our state’s largest industry and my hungry belly.

However, some legislators who represent students voted AGAINST this bill. Your guess is as good as mine. Sen. Dick Barrett, who represents Missoula’s university district, was a no, as were Sen. Cary Smith and Sen. Doug Kary of Billings.

Shooting Down Risky Coal Investments

Ding, dong, the witch is dead. (Hopefully.) SB 331, the bill that would’ve put Montanans on the hook for NorthWestern Energy’s continued investment in Colstrip (and its clean up), was voted down in the House on Tuesday. Legislators recognized that while opportunities for communities like Colstrip are important, NWE shouldn’t be able to invest in dying industries with zero accountability to protect their customers. I wrote about SB 331 extensively in Sunday’s WTH. Check it out for more info.

Segments of this bill could very well resurface in conference committees on other bills, so we’re still wary. Sen. Duane Ankney told reporters that “there’s a possibility it may rise again. After all, it is Easter.”

Ok, Duane. I don’t even have a good joke to make about that.

If you’re still interested in this issue, you should read up and comment on NorthWestern’s procurement plan — i.e. the plan they have to release about where Montana’s going to source our energy when they’re sticking with the usual regulatory processes (as opposed to trying to circumnavigate them in the legislature!). You can read FMT’s Conservation Outreach Fellow Caitlin’s summary here!

Protecting Indigenous Women and Girls

Hanna’s Act passed the Senate! This bill, which started out so strong, was briefly stalled in committee and stripped of its funding. But today it sticks to the original intentions — creating a position within the Department of Justice to handle missing person cases and providing $100,000 to pay for it. This is a first step towards dealing with a crisis, and it acknowledges that this is a statewide problem, not just a problem in our reservation communities.

Wowie Wow

There have been some seriously downer moments this session, but I’m so happy to get to share these moments of victory. THANK YOU for all your hard work and all your phone calls. We kicked some ass — and made Montana better for it!

What the Helena: Week 14

I’m tired. You’re tired. Here’s a puppy gif because we deserve it.


Events and Such

March 15 — Medicaid Expansion’s Last Chance

March 20 — Rockstar Hall of Fame








Boy oh boy. This is a big week, folks. With only two weeks left in the session, important issues are coming down to the WIRE and politics are becoming more… political? Infuriating. But inevitable.

Last Chance on Medicaid Expansion

So, maybe you’ve heard or maybe not. Medicaid expansion (HB 658) was voted down in the Montana Senate on Thursday afternoon on a tie vote, 25-25.

What’s really disturbing is that a lot of the resistance on the part of some Senate Republicanswas tied to SB 331, which you can learn more about later in this edition of WTH. Sen. Duane Ankney told MTN News that part of the reason for delaying HB 658’s vote was over concern that Bullock would veto SB 331. Other senators also confirmed to MTPR that deals could be struck about both bills.


I could yell about this for days, but you guys already knowSo, what now?

There’s still ONE LAST SHOT at reviving the bill on Monday during the Senate floor session — to bring it back would take a motion to reconsider, which requires a simple majority.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Call the Capitol Switchboard (406)444-4800 and leave a message for our 5 target senators before 11am on Monday that the health insurance of 96,000 Montanans is NOT A GAME: Sen. Ankney, Sen. Hoven, Sen. Richmond, Sen. Tempel and Sen. Welborn. Already called? Great! Call again.
  • Show up in the Senate gallery (at the Capitol) tomorrow at 11am. If they won’t pay attention to our message, we’ll just have to deliver them in person. HUZZUH.
  • Share your Montana Medicaid story through social media with the hashtags #NotAGame, #MTPol, and #MTLeg.

Ok, So What’s this SB 331 Business?

We have been taking a little heat on social media from a group of folks I’ve dubbed the Coal Trolls, who clearly want to fight about the future of Colstrip. Just to be clear: Although FMT is against further investment in coal power (we like this planet, people), even if you disagree and want to see Colstrip’s coal plant kept running as long as possible — this is still a bad bill.

NorthWestern Energy is framing this bill as “allowing” them to purchase more shares of Colstrip. But, there’s literally nothing stopping them from buying it now, except that they’d actually be on the hook for potential future expenses from this investment including cleanup costsUltimately, they’re trying to circumvent the Public Service Commission — as in, the publicly elected body that’s supposed to regulate these things — and put Montanans on the hook for these costs for the sake of making money for their executives and shareholders. See the actual footage of NWE execs if this bill were to pass to the left.

It’s a debate that’s divided the PSC itself.  Eight former commissioners and two current ones sent a letter to the legislature calling SB 331 “a dangerous bill that sets a perilous precedent.” Former commissioner Travis Kavulla has been an outspoken critic of SB 331, especially because NWE has never actually given a concrete reason for why this legislation is necessary to invest in Colstrip.

“They’ve never explained their answer anywhere; to Montana’s legislative committees, to members of the press or public,” Kavulla told MTPR. “And it’s a little disturbing that we are still dealing with a piece of legislation, the need for which is really unclear.”

This sham corporate interest bill would not save Colstrip. The Washington state legislature is closing in on a bill to phase out coal entirely by 2025, which would speed up the already virtually-certain demise of Colstrip. If SB 331 passes, the biggest winner would be NWE executives and shareholders. The losers would be pretty much everyone else. PSC staff laid out an analysis of what this bill would cost NWE ratepayers, and the tab apparently works out to $721 per person.

SB 331 was pretty heavily amended before it passed the House Energy, Telecommunications and Federal Relations Committee on Friday. We’re still working through the implications of these changes, but the Public Service Commission does retain a little more power in the new version. It would be able to decide how much ratepayers are charged for the Colstrip purchase. This is an improvement, but still the fact that we’re legislating about the investments of a private company — a monopoly, nonetheless — and using people’s HEALTH INSURANCE as a bargaining chip is nothing but appalling. Plus, the bill could still change significantly again before the end of the session.

There are real concerns about Colstrip closing, and maybe the legislature should spend more of its time talking about how to actually support the workers and community members of Colstrip and add clean energy jobs to our state. Contact your Senator and tell them you’re not into NWE executives making an even bigger profit off of hardworking Montanans: (406)444-4800.

Supporting Farmers Supports Montana!

HB 431 passed out of committee this week and that means we’re one-step closer to providing a little student debt assistance to young farmers and ranchers in Montana. This bipartisan solution to Montana’s aging farming and ranching communities is a home-run. The cool thing about HB 431 is that it doesn’t just support young farmers and ranchers, it also prioritizes folks who are underrepresented in farming like people of color, indigenous folks, and women.

This bill looks like it’s going to pass the Senate and when it does we can take a moment to celebrate, eat some local food, and drink some beer made with Montana barley.

The moral of this e-newsletter is to call (406)444-4800 and leave messages, messages, messages with your Senators every day, all day, right now.

Not into calling? Send a message electronically using this handy form.

See you next Sunday!

What the Helena: Week 13


Hi friends.

No time for small talk! We have shit to get to!

Stay in the Know

Mondays — Missoula Medicaid Expansion Phone Bank

April 20 — Rockstar Hall of Fame

Keeping Young Montanans in Agriculture

Agriculture is Montana’s largest industry — we’re talking a $4.6 billion impact on our state in 2015. But farmers and ranchers are a seriously aging workforce. The most recent data shows the average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 58. Also, since 2007, the total number of farmers in the country has declined by 20%. Yikes.

HB 431 would provide student loan assistance for young farmers and ranchers in Montana. This means if someone graduates from a Montana college or university and wants to go into farming or ranching, they’ll be able to apply for this program to help them out with up to 50% their student loans. We should be investing in Montana graduates and in the future of agriculture in our state! And the funding for this loan forgiveness would come from a grant program that already exists to encourage growth in the agricultural sector.

This bill will be heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee on Tuesday, April 9. If you support fellow students and young folks or just like to eat food, you should get moooo-ving on this bill (like a dairy farmer ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) on  a message for the committee at (406)444-4800 — and if you’re a young person in agriculture or interested in agriculture who would be affected by this bill, hit me up and we can talk about how you can get your story heard.

Why We’re Still Here for Medicaid Expansion

So last week we updated y’all on the changes made to HB 658, the only bill left to continue Medicaid Expansion in Montana. The bill is far from perfect — it does still include some work and reporting requirements — but, it’s been amended to protect the majority of people from losing their coverage.

The new fiscal note for the bill shows that under HB 658, around 88,000 of Montana’s 96,000 Medicaid recipients that are already meeting the requirements and will be automatically exempt from having to jump through bureaucratic hoops to prove it. This is good news for Montanans — because folks who are already workers, students and caregivers shouldn’t have to deal with red tape and paperwork that could result in them unfairly losing coverage.

HB 658 also has improved protections for students who receive Medicaid — students taking over six credits will be automatically exempt from meeting the requirements. And students taking under six will have those hours count towards their required 80 hours per month of “community engagement” — yay for valuing part-time and non-traditional students!

What does this all mean? It means we need y’all, more than ever, to make some calls and make it clear that MONTANA NEEDS MEDICAID EXPANSION. HB 658 was tabled in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee on Friday, but then moved to the Senate Finance Committee for another shot. They’ll hear it on Monday at 8 a.m., so *first thing Monday* we need folks calling (406)444-4800 and showing their support to committee members.

Still Talking About the Six-Mill Levy

The House Taxation Committee has been sitting on SB 152 since its hearing on March 21 — and we are ready for them to Move! Their! Butts!

This is a bill we’ve been talking about since waaaay back in the beginning of the session. It would remove the sunset on the 6 Mill Levy, which provides v important funding to the Montana University System. Elections are getting more and more expensive, and competing for attention on a crowded ballot requires countless hours and hella dollarz — students and activists shouldn’t have to fight every 10 years for funding that Montana voters have approved for the last 70 years straight.

The House Taxation Committee are the folks to contact on this one. We’ll keep you posted if this bill gets on the move!

Can We Not

The Senate Judiciary Committee just passed a resolution sponsored by Rep. Forrest Mandeville encouraging the U.S. Congress to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. Even though the Montana state legislature obviously has… zero real power over these kind of things, it’s still a bad gesture. Including a citizenship question is totally a political move, not to mention one that perpetuates racism, and some experts worry it would discourage non-citizens from answering the census out of fear and skew the results.

A fair and accurate census needs to count everyone so that Congressional districts can be fairly drawn, billions of federal dollars evenly distributed and civil rights policies implemented, monitored and evaluated. The Census is non-political, and it’s important we keep it that way. Asian Americans Advancing Justice debunks some myths about the Census citizenship question here.

Let’s Talk About Centering Indigenous Voices

If y’all didn’t hear, the bill to end the celebration of Columbus Day in Montana and replace it with Indigenous People’s Day was tabled in the Senate State Administration Committee on April 1 — even after the hearing on March 13 brought out almost an hour’s worth of proponents and only one opponent. All the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill.

And although Hanna’s Act, HB 21, has been revived in the Senate to help address this state’s crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, it’s been pretty heavily amended. The original intent of the bill was to create a position within the Department of Justice to specifically help with missing person cases, and the bill provided $100,000 in funding and guidelines for the position — both of which have now been removed. The specialist position is also now just an option for the DOJ, instead of a requirement.

While we’re happy the bill is still alive, it’s possible these changes will really limit the effect it has. Which leaves us with the question: Why do Montana lawmakers repeatedly refuse to acknowledge and address the needs of indigenous people, who make up roughly 8 percent of our state’s population?



Our Tele-Townhall Recording is Live!

Listen here if you missed our tele-townhall last week to learn all about the biggest issues in the legislature.

Goodnight. Good luck. Call your legislators about HB 658!

See you next Sunday.

What the Helena: Week 12

Is it Sunday AGAIN?

The weeks are just flying by, friends. And SO MUCH WENT DOWN THIS WEEK. You may have heard that the House Human Services Committee took executive action on Medicaid expansion and our beloved HB 425 is gone. Rest in power sweet bill. But the other Medicaid bill saw some amendments that make it a lot more palatable, so we’ll be going over that. And that’s not all that’s on our agenda this week. BUCKLE UP.

Parties And Such

Mondays — Medicaid Expansion Phone Bank

April 20 — Rockstar Hall of Fame

Welcome to a Post-Executive Action World

On Tuesday, the House Human Services Committee took executive action on both bills to continue Montana Medicaid expansion. HB 425, which was carried by Rep. Mary Caferro and campaigned for tirelessly by advocates across the state, was tabled. This is obviously disappointing, but I don’t want ANYONE to think that all the work we did on behalf of this bill was in vain. All of our voices had a huge impact in shifting the conversation around Medicaid, and helped lead lawmakers to a compromise.

That compromise is Rep. Ed Buttrey’s bill, HB 658. This is the bill that would establish work and reporting requirements on Medicaid expansion, and we initially fought hard against that. But HB 658 is now pretty heavily amended, and the exemptions from those requirements are much broader. For students, anyone taking over six credit hours will be automatically exempt, and the Department of Health and Human Services will do most of the work to verify exemptions, so the burden on regular Montanans will be lighter.

Even more importantly, the non-severability clause that I yelled about last week is gone. So if work requirements are struck down by a court (as they were recently in Arkansas and Kentucky) Medicaid expansion will not automatically end — instead, it will sunset in 2025, giving legislators a chance to re-evaluate and find a way to keep the program alive.

I know I’ve been nothing but fiery about Medicaid expansion in the past, so it may come as a surprise to y’all that right now we at FMT are asking for a little patience as we work to fully understand these changes and their effects. The Medicaid expansion landscape is still changing daily, but I promise we’ll be in touch as soon as we have more info about our next steps. Thank you all so much for fighting this good fight. It’s far from over.

This Week’s Bullshit

We found out this week that Sen. Dee Brown introduced a bill that would put a referendum on the ballot in 2020 proposing some of the strictest voter ID laws in the country — requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. This is bad for a lot of reasons (here’s a guide from the ACLU if you want to get into the weeds) but I’ll give you a quick summary:

More than 21 million Americans don’t have a government-issued photo ID. Up to 25 percent of voting-age African Americans don’t have this kind of ID, compared to only eight percent of white people. And these ID laws are enforced discriminatorily — a study found that minority voters are questioned about their ID more often than white voters. Ultimately, voter ID laws reduce turnout by two to three percent.

Ok, so if you’re introducing an egregious bill to the legislature, what’s the worst possible strategy you could take to help it fly under the radar? That would be scheduling it for a hearing with only 20 minutes notice, violating Montana’s open meeting laws and legislative rules. SB 366’s hearing wasn’t even posted on the paper schedule outside the hearing room.

We’re hopeful that this bill will die in committee, but regardless, we should all send a clear message to the Senate State Administration Committee: implementing strict voter ID laws violates Montanans’ fundamental right to vote, and hearing bills without giving adequate public notice is unacceptable.

Last Minute Bullshit Reversal

I had a whooooole rant tee’d up for you guys about how the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled Hanna’s Act, the bill to authorize the Department of Justice to hire a specialist to help address the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women in our state — you know, the bill that passed the House 99-0? The bill was named after Hanna Harris, a Northern Cheyenne woman murdered in 2013, and her mother came to testify in January about the need for this bill and other MMIW bills carried by Rep. Rae Peppers.

But thankfully, Hanna’s Act was blasted out of committee on Friday after an amendment came from a bill opponent, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, changing the bill’s language from saying the DOJ “shall” employ a specialist for these cases to the DOJ “may” employ a specialist.

Originally when Fielder voted against the bill in committee, she said, “I believe that tribal governments have extensive resources and I’d like to see some participation from those tribal governments in financing a position like this rather than just ask the state to do it.”

Not only is the idea that tribal governments are rolling in money totally false, but it ignores the fact that countless indigenous women go missing from urban areas off-reservation, where tribal governments have no jurisdiction. I’m glad Fielder came around, but that doesn’t change the fact that her previous comments were seriously misguided.

I know I say this every week, but seriously, support indigenous-led organizations like Western Native Voice, because there are still powerful people in Montana working against the interest of indigenous people every day.

Rich People Should Pay a Fair Share of Taxes

Here’s a fact I learned this week: a Montana worker earning just over the minimum wage is paying the same top income tax rate as someone with income over $500,000. That means my part-time-comms, part-time-pizza-serving ass is paying the same tax rate as literally the richest people in our state. And if you evaluate our whole tax system, like the Montana Budget and Policy Center does, you’ll find that low-income households in Montana actually pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes than wealthy families.

I swear sometimes when I talk about stuff like this I want to shout at legislators the way angry Little League dads shout at the refs: “ARE YOU BLIND?” Since the wealthy got a tax break in 2003, it’s cost our state almost $1 billion in revenue.

HB 697 was a bill that would’ve restored the top two tax brackets for incomes over $250,000 and $500,000 annually aka. making sure the wealthy actually pay their share. And it was TABLED in the House Taxation Committee on Wednesday, which is incredibly dumb. Luckily you can call (406)444-4800 and leave a message for the entire committee telling them how dumb this was. What a convenient service. Almost like Montana tax dollars at work.

Ok, So This Has Been Kind of Depressing.

I know, I know. A little bit of a pile-on this week. But I want to take a moment to thank everyone who keeps reading this, week after week, and keeps investing their time in contacting legislators and showing up in Helena. Every voice counts, dammit. And we’re making waves, even if we don’t get to surf them every time. (I just made up that metaphor and it’s bad, I’m very sorry.)

See you next Sunday.

What the Helena: Week 11

Things are ramping up, friends. It’s make-or-break time in the Montana! State! Legislature! This week we’ve got updates on Medicaid expansion (have you heard of the INSANITY that is the non-severability clause because you’re about to), funding for financial aid and MORE.

Take Action This Month

March 25-26 — Indigenous Movements Interchange

March 27 — Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Day of Action

March 27 — Forward Montana Legislative Tele-Townhall

Wednesdays — Missoula Medicaid Expansion Phone Bank

The World’s Worst Vocabulary Lesson

I just learned this week that Rep. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid bill includes a non-severability clause, which means that if a SINGLE PROVISION of the bill is struck down in court (as it very well might be, seeing as Medicaid work requirements are currently being challenged in Arkansas and Kentucky) the ENTIRE BILL IS NULL AND VOID. I’m using a lot of all-caps here because this is a PRETTY BIG DEAL. Montanans could find ourselves between legislative sessions with our Medicaid expansion program suddenly eliminated — and 100,000 people kicked off their insurance.

In related news, since Buttrey’s bill has finally been introduced, researchers at George Washington University have updated their study on how many people would lose insurance because of it — and oh boy, it’s even worse than we thought.

“We conservatively estimate that between 50,000 to 56,000 of the 95,000 current HELP enrollees would lose Medicaid coverage if the bill is adopted,” the report says. That’s right, y’all — as many as 59% of Medicaid recipients losing coverage is a *conservative estimate*.

The Medicaid expansion rally was awesome (did you see our Instagram story?), but we need even more pressure on lawmakers to make sure they do right by Montanans. Would you be able to submit a short letter to the editor to your local paper in favor of the GOOD Medicaid expansion bill, HB 425? If so, please reply to this email and let me know! I’ve got you covered with all the facts, figures and guidelines you need.

Remember the 6-Mill Levy?

The 6-Mill Levy is the higher education funding that Montanans vote on every ten years, and right now some friends in the capitol are working to make that funding permanent! That would mean less money and time invested in the campaign every decade, and more space for students and their allies to focus on bigger and better things. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle editorial board agrees with us — read their argument in favor of a permanent 6-Milly Levy to get the deets.

Also, check out our girl Hannah Pate testifying at the SB 152 hearing. You may remember Hannah from the cute-as-heck instagram story she did about the 6-Mill Levy last fall.

Calling All Students: Help Us Restore Funding for Need-Based Aid!

An amendment to the budget bill that would’ve restored need-based aid funding to the full $5 million failed on the House floor, with all but one Republican representative (Rep. Rod Garcia ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) voting against the interests of low-income students. Remember, this is all money that has been cut from the education budget in the last four years, not new funding we’re trying to imagine into existence (although, while we’re at it, I wouldn’t say no to that).

But, we have another chance at getting an amendment passed to up this funding from $2 million to $5 million — and we seriously need your help. Is one of your legislators on the Senate Finance and Claims committee? If so, you gotta call them → (406)444-4800! Or write them! Or show up at their office wearing only your student loan bills as a paper loincloth!

And if you so happen to be from Ronan, Miles City, Dillon, Buffalo, Eureka, Colstrip or Butte — hit me up. Everyone’s voice is awesome, but we need your voice extra.

This Week in “What the What??”

Another crazy thing that happened: Against the strong recommendations of their staff, the Public Service Commission (Montana’s elected body that regulates utilities) voted to weaken their own regulatory power and support SB 331, a bill that would let NorthWestern Energy put energy consumers (Montanans!) on the hook for paying for a further investment in the Colstrip coal plant. A large group of PSC staff wrote and signed a memo in strong opposition to SB 331.

Commissioner Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, the only “no” vote, said it’s a terrible precedent that undercuts the PSC’s authority to review utility costs: “If we believe in this bill, then we don’t believe in the PSC,” he said. “The Legislature might as well go to work creating something new to their liking, because this bill is a denial of what we are here to do.”

We need to double down on legislators to kill SB 331, which just passed out of committee and will be heard on the Senate floor. You should contact your senators and tell them we’re not going to let an energy monopoly make decisions that should be left to a publicly elected body. And while you’re at it, call up the commissioners who voted to support SB 331 to ask why we shouldn’t recall them for refusing to do their job. Here’s their contact page.

This Week in Appalling News

We’ve touched on HB 302 a few weeks ago when its sponsor, Rep. Greg DeVries made some seriously horrifying comments on the House floor, calling abortion a “genocide” against Indigenous children. (Again, please donate money to indigenous-led organizations, because oppression & discrimination suck.)

Even without Rep. DeVries’s super racist comment, this bill deserves attention all on its own for being an extreme overreach by government into the bodily autonomy and private lives of Montanans. It would amend the Montana state constitution to define “personhood” as beginning at conception, which means outlawing abortion and Plan B, and seriously affecting birth control options and even IVF.

Planned Parenthood Action has been doing some incredible work against this bill, but I wanted to make sure all WTH readers were aware of how devastating its consequences would be to women’s right to choose in our state. Make sure to turn out for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana’s lobby day on March 27th, and reach out to the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell them to protect Montanans’ right to privacy and health care.

Although our constitutionally protected right to access safe, legal abortion shouldn’t be up for debate, when it is, it can bring out the most extreme, most outrage-inducing comments. See the image below:

THIS IS NOT OKAY. If your movement includes the threat of violence as a tactic, you’re probably not in a good movement. Please hug an abortion provider in your life, because that shit is cray.

Are You Coming to Our Tele-Townhall?

That’s a moot point, because you don’t even have to go anywhere to listen in and learn all about legislative issues. Four awesome speakers and I will be on the line talking about voting rights, Medicaid expansion, conservation and higher education funding — don’t make us talk to ourselves! It’s Wednesday, March 27th at 7 p.m. Sign up here! And invite your friends on Facebook!

See you on Wednesday.

This spring, let’s show up for our neighbors

By Kiah Abbey, Deputy Director

During a fast-paced legislative session and weeks full of presidential candidate announcements, it’s easy to get caught up in this political moment or that one. Though exhilarating, it can cause us to lose sight of the decades of political moments and people that our work builds on and the vision and the world that we hope to create.

The last few months have been both a hard and joyous reminder of the context in which our work sits.

My Papa passed away early in February and with his death I lost one of my anchors. My Papa embodied what it means to be a good neighbor. A former Extension Agent and Stillwater County Commissioner, he lived and breathed public service and inspired everyone who crossed his path to show up — be it for a 4H show or an election or just to shovel a neighbor’s walk. He was a big supporter of our work at Forward Montana; often taking the time to call folks on our staff to ask questions about a recent email or just to say “I appreciate your work”. It’s been hard to not have him to call, but everyday as I watch our team head out with clipboards (in snow, in sleet, in wind) to show up for our neighbors I know that he’s still here.

It was also in February that I was able to gather with Alliance for Youth Action leaders from across the country to celebrate our 2018 wins, support each other in our defeats or missteps, and look toward the future of our nationwide youth movement. It’s hard to not have your fire lit when you hear about our friends at Chicago Votes, who are registering voters — many for the first time — at Cook County Jail or about the incredible work that Ohio Student Association is doing internally to make sure that their organizers can access critical mental health services. This group of leaders challenges me to do bigger, be better, and love deeper and I’m so thankful that we can show up for each other.

And finally, the Forward Montana family welcomed a new member, Ruby Madison Doria. Rachel (our Executive Director!) and her husband Travis welcomed Ruby on Sunday morning, March 10th while the sun rose over Mt. Jumbo. When I met Ruby last week, I was reminded that our work at Forward Montana lives in her just as it lived in my Papa. I can already tell that she will be a force for our democracy and I’m so glad she showed up in our Forward Montana family.

As the snow begins to thaw and the green grass begins to poke out, our hearts are forced to look ahead and see the promise that the next season brings. And as I look towards that promise — and revel in the sunshine that’s finally here — I plan to keep my Papa, my friends across the country, and little Ruby in mind.

Kiah Abbey is the Deputy Director at Forward Montana. She lives in Missoula with her partner and her perfect cat Puddy. 

What the Helena: Week 10

Helloooo, friends.

Were you at the Medicaid expansion rally on Saturday??? Because it was incredible.Check out the cute pics from the rally and our Instagram story. You can listen to the committee hearing if you’re so inclined, and MAKE SURE to reach out to committee members.

Your Social Calendar

March 22 — Conservation Day of Action

March 25-26 — Indigenous Movements Interchange

March 27 — Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Day of Action

March 27 — Forward Montana Legislative Tele-Townhall

Speaking of Medicaid…

Did y’all see this shit?

Thanks to George for pointing out that student exemption from work requirements in Rep. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid expansion bill is dependent on students attending a college that doesn’t offer a health insurance plan. Too bad all Montana University System schools offer a health plan and too bad that health plan costs $1,800 PER SEMESTER.

So where does that leave students?Screwed, as usual, because they’d have to meet Buttrey’s 80 hours per month of work requirements while also attending school OR pay a ridiculous amount for health insurance, adding up to $14,480 to their student debt load over four years. Cool. Great. Love it.

Poor Kids Need College Too

Our friends over at Montana Associated Students are seriously going to bat for young folks at the Capitol lately. Budgeting is in full swing, and while the $24 million in funding to continue the tuition freeze for Montana students has remained in the budget — yay! — the governor’s recommended $5 million for need-based aid was cut to $2 million — boooooo. Need-based aid is often the most important factor in ensuring that low-income Montanans can attend college. Keep in mind that this $5 million is not new money, it’s restoring money that has been cut from higher ed funding over the last five years.

So, how do we remind legislators that providing aid for the students who need it most is unbelievably key to Montana’s future? I’m so glad you asked. We posted on Facebook last week about supporting an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee to restore funding to the full $5 million. Unfortunately, that amendment was shot down along party lines — you know which party was on which side, y’all— but we’ll have a few other shots to get it passed. I’ll keep you posted about who to contact when, but for now, it probably wouldn’t hurt to shoot your legislators a lil message about how important this is.

Side note: This funding will be especially important if Buttrey’s Medicaid bill passes and low-income students see an extra $14,480 tacked onto their loan burden.

Tom Richmond Watch

APPARENTLY this is going to become a recurring theme. Sen. Tom Richmond is sponsoring both of the shitty energy bills we talked about last week that would limit the Public Service Commission’s ability to regulate utilities like NorthWestern Energy. SB 199, which would interfere with the usual process NorthWestern has to go through to raise rates, is alive and kicking in the House Energy Committee, with a hearing on Friday.

The other bad bill we talked about, SB 278, is tabled, but don’t breathe easy yet. Richmond and the GOP went with what we in the comms biz call a rebrand — same bullshit, fancy new packaging. He has a new bill, SB 331, that is essentially a zombie version of the old one, which would allow NWE to buy a larger share of the Colstrip coal plant and pass on all the risk to ratepayers, i.e. the majority of Western Montanans, i.e. you and me.

I think this Billings Gazette article summarizes the problem most succinctly: “Richmond’s plan still binds customers to a 30-year Colstrip payment plan, in order to guarantee NorthWestern a full return of the $407 million it’s already paid for 30 percent ownership of Colstrip Unit 4. Those payments would continue even after Colstrip shut down, which is unusual. Typically, customers cannot be charged for a power plant that doesn’t supply them energy. Richmond’s bill would change that.”

So yes, NorthWestern and Tom Richmond are still trying to put you on the hook for continued investment in expensive coal power. Contact the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee by calling (406)444-4800 and tell them hell no. (I mean that figuratively. Swearing is for What the Helena, not the Capitol switchboard operators.)

Making Progress

We’ve seen a lot of movement so far on bills to deal with the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women in our state. Hanna’s Act, which would allow the Department of Justice to aide in missing person cases, passed 99-0 in the House. Bills to require all law enforcement bodies to submit missing person reports within a certain time period and require the Office of Public Instruction to maintain an online repository of school photos have also cleared their initial committee and floor votes.

This Helena Independent Record story has details on these bills and many more that are still alive in the legislature and you can follow our friends at Western Native Voice for more info.

Whatever Happened to Individual Rights?

Here’s a topic we haven’t touched on before in What the Helena, but one that I think is pretty important: medical aid in dying, which is when terminally ill people who still have full mental capacity request a prescription for medication that would end their life, which they then choose to take themselves. It can spare someone with a bad medical prognosis from so much suffering, and it’s been legal in Montana since 2009, when the Montana Supreme Court ruled that it wasn’t against any existing Montana laws.

But this session brings us a pretty egregious bill that would allow doctors to be charged with homicide for issuing this prescription — even when the patient is a consenting adult. The minimum sentence for deliberate homicide in Montana is ten years and the maximum is the freaking death penalty.

HB 284 is a legislative attempt to deny terminally ill Montanans the right to die on their own term, and to criminalize physicians who put their patients’ values and wishes first. Learn how to get involved in this fight by contacting our friend Amy at Compassion and Choices, ajhetzler@compassionandchoices.org.

We’re Tele-Townhalling Again!

Did you call in to our first tele-townhall, where we had some awesome young activists and lobbyists talking about the issues to watch this legislative session? We’re doing it again — and this time we’ll be able to update you on what bills are still alive this session, which ones failed, and where there are still BIG opportunities to get your voice heard.

So call us — from your kitchen, from your car, from the Grammys. We’ll walk you through a legislative update and leave plenty of time for questions. Sign up on our Facebook event!

Alright, I’m off to take a nap and gear up for another big week of yelling about Medicaid and financial aid. See you next Sunday.



Margaret Grayson is Forward Montana’s Legislative Communications Fellow. A recent graduate of University of Montana, Margaret spent three years with the Montana Kaimin as a reporter and editor and interned at the Missoula Independent (RIP). Now she writes jokes for the internet and works to educate young folks about the legislative session.

What the Helena: Week 9

Hello again.

I know it’s only been a week, friends, but something about officially being in the second half of the session makes me feel like I’m turning over a new leaf. New phone, who dis? Legislators are back from transmittal break, and idk about you, but I am ready to get all up in the Capitol and fight for the bills I care about.

Clear You Calendar, Mark These Dates

March 11 — RESCHEDULED International Women’s Day Lobby Day

March 16 — Don’t Mess with Medicaid Rally

March 25-26 — Indigenous Movements Interchange

March 27 — Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Day of Action

March 27 — Forward Montana Legislative Tele-Townhall

*SIREN NOISES* Medicaid Expansion Rally! This Week.

Guys. We have been preparing ALL SESSION for this. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. You have your training. You have your talking points. Now it’s time to show up!

When? Saturday, March 16, at noon.

Where? Montana State Capitol steps.

How do I RSVP/ask questions/find a carpool? Right here on Facebook, boo.

I know, I know, I’ve been a broken record on Medicaid expansion. You can read all about it in nearly every single week of WTH, but just in case you want a refresher, here are the main points:

  • Medicaid expansion, originally passed in 2015, has been a massive success. It has insured 1 in 10 people in our state — and 61% of them are under 40. Almost half of folks covered live in rural Montana. Medicaid expansion covers 20% of our state’s indigenous population.
  • Some legislators want to change Medicaid requirements in ways that would kick people off their insurance. Rep. Ed Buttrey’s bill — noticeably not yet introduced — would require folks to meet absolutely ridiculous work and reporting requirements. Creating additional barriers will kick people off their insurance — to the tune of up to 43,000 hardworking Montanans.
  • Rep. Mary Caffero’s bill, HB 425, would continue Medicaid expansion as is, without hurting working families. When people are healthy and secure in their coverage, it’s easier for them to find jobs and work towards improving our state!

Upcoming Hearings

The bill to lift the sunset on the 6 Mill Levy, SB 152, will be heard in the House Taxation committee on March 19. We love this bill because every ten years students and advocates have to spend countless hours campaigning for the 6 Mill Levy, which provides funding to Montana’s colleges and universities — despite the fact that Montanans have approved this funding for the past 70 years straight! Hit up the House Taxation Committee and ask them to support this bill!

The bill to establish Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day, HB 219, will be heard in the Senate State Administration Committee on March 13. Remember that last session, efforts to eliminate Columbus Day passed the House and then died in the Senate — so the fight is far from over on this one! You can submit public comment with the Indigenous Justice Coalition!

A badass group of high school students (some of them our very own FMT leaders!), Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, has worked super hard to have a common-sense gun control bill introduced in the legislature! HB 477 will be heard in committee on Monday — keep an eye on our Instagram page to follow these rockstars who are kicking ass and getting their voices heard in the capitol, and see this post to find out how to get involved. #YoungPeoplePower

Coupla Gnarly Energy Bills

It’s pretty complicated to try to get into some of the bad energy bills happening this session — they involve how much power the Public Service Commission, an elected body, has over NorthWestern Energy, which supplies power to most of the state. But NorthWestern is pushing some bills that could make it a lot harder for elected officials to have oversight. It’s important that the PSC can regulate rates because without a lot of competition in the state, NorthWestern can absolutely screw over consumers.


First up is SB 199, which is hella wonky and hard to get a grasp of through bill language — but it would interfere with the PSC’s authority on rates and the process NorthWestern goes through to try and raise those rates. This puppy has a hearing in the House Energy Committee on March 15.

We’ve also got SB 278, which is the nightmare bill that’s been dubbed “a blank check to NorthWestern Energy.” SB 278 would tie the hands of the PSC and allow NWE to buy a larger share of the Colstrip coal plant and pass on all the risk to ratepayers, i.e. the majority of Western Montanans, i.e. me and you. It would also allow NWE to overcharge average Montanans for Colstrip instead of facing the consequences of a poor investment. #WheresYourFreeMarketCapitalismNow

You think the Woods-Kardashian drama has been cray, wait till you see the drama between the Billings Gazette and NWE’s CEO. Crack open a cold one and pull up a chair.

  1. Billings Gazette’s first OpEd
  2. Bob Rowe’s response
  3. Billings Gazette fires back

The worst part about all this — Governor Bullock still hasn’t come out against these bills or committed to a veto. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but be prepared to put pressure on him.

Montana Conservation Voters and Montana Environmental Information Center are coming out in full force against these bills, and you can also reach out to FMT’s very own conservation guru, caitlin@forwardmontana.org, for more info.

A Cool and Useful Thing

Montana Free Press just came out with a web app that shows you a BUNCH of interesting data about our legislators have voted this session — including how often legislators have voted with their party. This is, to my uneducated-in-the-art-of-data-analysis eye, an absolutely massive undertaking — and incredibly useful in holding legislators accountable. Check it out, see what your legislators are up to, and give thanks for every moment you don’t have to spend on that godforsaken state LAWS website.

Ok folks. See you Saturday!

I’ll be making some cute-ass signs for the Medicaid expansion rally, so lmk if you want dibs on one.

Margaret Grayson is Forward Montana’s Legislative Communications Fellow. A recent graduate of University of Montana, Margaret spent three years with the Montana Kaimin as a reporter and editor and interned at the Missoula Independent (RIP). Now she writes jokes for the internet and works to educate young folks about the legislative session.