FMT’s SB319 Litigation


Contacts: Raph Graybill, Graybill Law Firm, (406) 403-2811

** Forward Montana sues to challenge recent unconstitutional lawmaking **

[HELENA, MONTANA] Forward Montana, Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Lewis & Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher, and a group of prominent members of the bar who represent both plaintiffs and defendants, have filed a lawsuit challenging a recently passed law that silences the voices of college students and would remove Montana judges from hundreds of pending cases.

Less than 24 hours before the end of the legislative session, legislators commandeered SB319 and added two completely new provisions to the bill. The changes are both sweeping and unconstitutional. The first provision requires judges to recuse themselves anytime they receive $91 or more in independent spending from a political committee that a party or attorney before them has supported financially in any amount.  If the provision takes effect on July 1, it will cause chaos in the judiciary by forcing the removal of judges from hundreds of pending cases in Montana.  The second provision bans voter registration and other First Amendment activities around certain public university facilities, such as a Montana Grizzly football game. The provisions were added onto SB319 in a hearing that lasted just sixteen minutes and without public comment.

The complaint alleges that these changes violate Article V, Section 11 of the Montana Constitution, which requires that bills contain only a single subject and prevents the legislature from amending laws so much during the process that they lose their original purpose.  Though the practice is unconstitutional, it became more common during the most recent legislative session.

About bringing this challenge, Kiersten Iwai, Executive Director of Forward Montana issued the following statement:

“Our democracy works best when everyone is involved, not just a few lawmakers behind closed doors. Think I’m exaggerating? The hearing for this bill lasted only sixteen minutes with no opportunity for public input. That’s the definition of closed-door lawmaking.

Montana’s State Constitution is designed to prevent last minute amendments – just like these – by prohibiting a bill from containing multiple unrelated subjects. This type of lawmaking is a tactic used to purposefully confuse constituents and distract from the real issues at hand.

The results of this quick lawmaking should be a concern to all Montanans. It’s an assault against our democracy and must be challenged in court. Legislators need to know that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

Joining the lawsuit is the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Association cautioned that if SB319’s recusal provisions go into effect, it could affect hundreds of pending criminal cases in Montana and potentially interfere with other constitutional rights like the right to a speedy trial.

Colin Stephens, President of the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, noted that the suit has drawn support from both the prosecution and defense side of the criminal bench:

“Any time I can stand side by side with Leo Gallagher is an interesting but good time.  Bad legislation makes strange bedfellows.”


2021 Legislative Session Statement

As an organization that advocates for the safety and well-being of all Montanans, the last few months of the 2021 Legislative Session have been tough.

After a disappointing election where Republicans gained 10 state seats and control of the governor’s office for the first time in 16 years, we expected to see the Republican agenda advance. This was no surprise. What was not expected were the ways in which GOP leadership would use their power to exploit the legislative process and enact controversial policies to safeguard their unilateral control from years to come.

The tactics used to engineer this power grab were bold and manifold. Members of the minority party were silenced during floor debates. Committee chairs invalidated the experiences of constituents and bullied organizations who came to testify at hearings. There were attempts to conduct committee hearings without Democrats present and a move to exclude reporters from Republican caucus meetings, despite Montana’s strong open meeting laws.

Unfortunately, there seem to be few accountability measures in place in these instances. Legislators in the majority party can easily get away with even the most blatant abuses of decorum with little consequence, as we saw. The pace of the session is too quick for the media and other organizations to give each of these abhorrent occurrences the scrutiny that our democracy deserves.

When legislators are elected to office, it is their job, first and foremost, to listen to their constituents. However, during the 11th hour of the session, Republicans packed last minute line items into hard-fought budget bills and added sweeping amendments with no opportunity for public input. While this behavior is not uncommon at the end of any legislative session, the degree to which it occurred was unprecedented. No matter which side of the aisle you stand on, we should all be concerned with a rushed government that excludes the voices of the people who it governs.

Much of our own time and energy as an organization was spent fighting baseless attacks on Montanans’ rights and bodies, rather than working towards meaningful compromise and solutions to the issues facing our state. It is exhausting to show up time and time again, fighting harmful bills that should never have been introduced in the first place.

If you weren’t able to keep up, here are some key policy takeaways from the 67th Montana Legislative session:

  • In a state with a commitment to “maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment” written into our Constitution, we’ve rolled back clean water protections and allowed Northwestern Energy, our state’s energy monopoly, to forgo investments in renewable energy projects.
  • In a state where voters and politicians are vocal defenders of our constitutional rights, we’ve enacted bills from ALEC, a corporate-funded right-wing group selling prepackaged agendas to curtail First Amendment rights.
  • Legislators who campaigned on the promise of keeping the government out of private decisions, put forward bills doing the exact opposite: putting the government between individuals and their doctors.
  • In a state built on the backs of blue-collar workers, our legislators introduced bills to attack unions while offering tax breaks for the wealthy.
  • In a state brimming with Montana pride, conservative organizations brought in paid out-of-state lobbyists to testify on controversial bills, while dismissing the experiences of Montana families.
  • Republicans who campaigned on small government, demonstrated an obsession with consolidating power into the hands of a few (themselves) and dismantling local control across the state — launching an assault on local governments, health boards, and the Montana Board of Regents.

Perhaps most concerning this session was the attack on democracy itself. The Legislature and Gov. Gianforte passed multiple laws that will undoubtedly make it harder for Montanans to cast a ballot. To accomplish this, the Gianforte Administration spread dangerous lies and misinformation around “election integrity.” Make no mistake: this is a calculated effort to sow undue skepticism and distrust in Montana’s elections in order to justify voter suppression legislation that will keep people of color, young people, people with disabilities, and others away from the polls.

In addition, there were over a dozen GOP bills introduced to undermine the Judiciary, an independent branch of government. It’s clear that to Gov. Gianforte, the court system is the last barrier to unilateral Republican control. Our legislature knows that these power grabs are unconstitutional – which is why they’ve padded the Secretary of State’s office with money to defend their voter suppression bills in court. In the meantime, Legislative Republicans have launched a well-timed campaign to smear the reputation of the Montana Judiciary. These actions are a threat to the checks and balances of our democracy and should concern every last one of us, regardless of your political beliefs.

Spend a day listening to heartfelt testimony on any number of the bills heard this session and you will realize the thousands of lives affected by this legislation. These laws shape our lives. They perpetuate injustice. The process of sharing your story in front of people who do not listen, who intimidate you into silence, or gaslight you into believing your experience isn’t real, is traumatizing. Yet, this is the reality of the state legislature. It is an unsafe and violent environment for many, especially BIPOC and other historically marginalized communities, and yet Montanans keep showing up. Because our lives and the future of our state depend on it.

We must also acknowledge the shortcomings of our legislative process in itself. Montana is one of only a handful of states with a “citizen legislature,” meaning it is made up of ordinary folks who serve part-time in addition to their regular jobs. While a citizen legislature has the advantage of representing a broad range of folks, not everyone is in a position of privilege to take 90 days off work, resulting in a body that is not truly representative of all Montanans.

In addition, Montana is one of only four states with a biennial legislature, convening only every other year. This means that two years of budget and policy work is crammed into just four months of lawmaking. At several points throughout this session, the haste at which complex bills were being heard was not only impossible to engage with, but insulting to the people whose lives these laws will impact for years to come.

The current structure of the Montana legislature is not conducive to meaningful public participation and perpetuates systems of inequality. It is a reproductive organ of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. While we must work for change within this oppressive institution, we must simultaneously question its purpose, functionality, and impacts on all Montanans, and imagine alternative ways to create change in our communities. At Forward Montana, we are committed to doing both.

We are incredibly grateful for anyone who made an effort to testify this session. Union members showed up en masse and quashed right-to-work legislation which passed in other states. Medical professionals, young people, and LGBTQ+ Montanans and allies worked tirelessly to stop two bills that would have prohibited transgender youth from accessing lifesaving healthcare. Together, we protected access to Medicaid and SNAP for thousands of low-income Montana families. Your stories and voices make a difference.

We are thankful to everyone who contacted legislators, wrote into local newspapers, or started conversations with loved ones around the issues that matter to you and will continue to affect our lives for many years to come. We are also extremely grateful to many of our hard working legislators who continued to represent us day after day and fight for all Montanans. They are true public servants.

At Forward Montana, we have big dreams for our state, and we recognize that we have a long way to go. Our legislative process is steeped in white supremacy and harms ALL Montanans in one way or another. There are no simple solutions, but there are countless creative, compassionate, and dedicated young Montanans who believe in a better future. This gives us enormous hope.

Whether you’ve been civically engaged for years or just started paying attention, we hope this legislative session galvanized you into action. As citizens, we are not meant to be spectators in the political game we call democracy, but engaged participants. As a wise person once said, “The antidote, the only antidote, to the power of organized money is the power of organized people.” We’re going to need everyone’s help to renew our democracy in the wake of the 67th Legislative Session.

Please take a break to rest, rejuvenate, and regain your strength, and once you feel ready, we hope you’ll continue to join us to fight for a more equitable and inclusive Montana.

We’d love your feedback on how we can best work together.

What the Helena – The Final Wrap-Up!

*May 9, 2021*

It’s been just over a week since we bid adieu to the 2021 Legislative Session, and we hope y’all have been able to take a breather. As you’re probably aware, a lot of the legislation we saw this session wasn’t so great.

Over the last four months, you may have felt hopeless, angry, or afraid. You may have seen Montana in a new light, or you may have been unsurprised by the ceaseless attacks on our rights and bodies. Maybe you needed to take a step back to care for yourself and your loved ones. Know that we share many of these feelings, and that all of those responses to this year’s legislative sh*tshow are valid.

We should take time to rest, but we can’t disengage. The wheels of white supremacy, transphobia, and homophobia will keep turning in Montana. Each and every young person is needed to transform our state into a safe and loving place to live.

In our wrap-up edition, we will take a few minutes to recap the successes and carnage of the 67th Legislative session and share some resources. If you have feedback for us, we’d love to hear from you.

Wondering who’s been keeping you up-to-date this session? Tune in for five giggly minutes with our legislative team.

Climate Justice

The science of climate change is strong and alarming. In Montana, we can see glaciers melting before our eyes and feel the smoke in our lungs each summer from worsening forest fires. Environmental changes have social, economic, and political repercussions, while disproportionately affecting low-income communities and BIPOC in our country. Yet, on the state level, we continue to see short-sighted legislation that does not acknowledge or address these pressing issues.

We’ll start off by celebrating the deaths of some horrible bills! HB320 set the stage for the sale of public lands to private interests. SB379 gave Northwestern Energy a blank check for continued investment in the outdated Colstrip power plant while driving up energy bills for Montana households. SB260 would have discouraged the enforcement of environmental regulations put in place for the sake of public health. Thankfully, many environmental advocates banded together to defeat these bills, which did not make it across the finish line.

Now, getting a little heavier. Penalties for fossil fuel protest are about to get a whole lot higher. HB481 will increase the penalties for trespassing and vandalism of energy infrastructure (activities that are already illegal) — to an outrageous extent. The bottom line: HB481 is part of a nationwide effort to shut down Indigenous-led resistance to fossil fuel development. It’s on the Governor’s desk.

Meanwhile, Montana’s energy monopoly, Northwestern Energy (NWE), has gotten away with solidifying its reliance on fossil fuels at our expense. HB475HB576, and SB237 will likely eliminate the Montana Renewable Portfolio Standard (which was created to encourage renewable energy development across Montana) and repeal the Community Renewable Energy Projects requirement — letting NWE off the hook for $2.5 penalty fees it currently owes to tribal and low income energy assistance programs. HB576 and SB237 are both waiting to be signed.

Montana’s energy industry may also be getting less democratic. HB273 would repeal Initiative 80 (I-80), a long-standing initiative which gave citizens the right to vote on any proposed nuclear facilities in our state. It doesn’t take a history buff to tell us how closely nuclear energy is linked with environmental injustices worldwide. No matter how you feel about nuclear power, Montanans deserve to have a voice. This is also waiting on Gov. Gianforte’s stamp of approval.

We will continue to fight alongside our neighbors young and old for a sustainable climate future, while bringing justice to the forefront of the conversation. In the meantime, support your local farmers! Learn about and participate in Indigenous-led climate movements! And donate to one of the many organizations in our state fighting for a healthy climate future.

Tribal Sovereignty

The issue of tribal sovereignty is often misunderstood and showed up a lot throughout the session, so we feel it’s important to recap.

Tribal Nations are sovereign nations, meaning they have the right to self-governance and the authority to oversee their own land and resources. They have a unique government-to-government relationship with the federal government. However, several bills introduced this session demonstrated the continued overreach into tribal affairs that Native Nations have been fighting for decades.

SB214, a tax bill rooted in settler colonialism, creates unnecessary barriers to tribal land consolidation efforts. This ignores the sovereignty of tribal nations. HB302 requires county approval to relocate bison. It includes an exemption for tribes, but advocacy organizations say the exemption is vaguely written and the bill could still threaten tribal sovereignty and disrupt ongoing tribal bison restoration efforts in Montana. 

Legislation like this continues to erode trust between tribes and state agencies, forcing Native Montanans to sacrifice time and resources in an effort to protect their Constitutional sovereignty.

On a good note, there were several bills introduced this session to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). Three out of four passed and were signed into law — the first of many steps toward addressing this crisis in our state. 

If you want to support organizations that advocate for tribal sovereignty, please check out our partners at Western Native Voice. 

Economic Justice

Y’all, I wish this update could be more heartening, and yet, in keeping with the all-too-familiar theme of less than good news, it’s time to identify some of the barriers the 67th Legislature erected for lower income Montanans.


The passage of HB259 prohibits inclusionary zoning practices in Montana, affecting the current housing efforts of Bozeman and Whitefish and excluding all other towns from using this tactic to address affordable housing needs. ICYMI: inclusionary zoning requires that new residential developments include a certain percentage of affordable units.  

And, if you’re a renter, a slew of bills introduced by Rep. Steven Galloway of Great Falls (HB401, HB402, HB439, HB541) will put more power into the hands of landlords, aka himself, and contribute to the already predatory rental environment we face. Thanks to the disproportionate number of contractors and landlords who are elected into office, the housing crisis will be sticking around.


Anti-reproductive healthcare extremists inundated the Capitol this year and we have many new restrictive laws to show for it. As of the end of the session, the Legislature passed bills to ban abortion procedures at 20 weeks, shame abortion patients, inhibit medical practitioners’ ability to provide medication abortions, and restrict funding for low-income Montanans in need of reproductive healthcare services. Lastly, after the passage of HB167 we will see a “Born Alive Infant Protection Act” on the 2022 ballot which would penalize doctors who don’t provide life-saving care to a newborn that has no chance of survival. Families and medical providers already have to make impossible decisions in these situations, and this bill is nothing but cruel political theatre that will re-traumatize Montana families. 

A hint of hope! Our voices echoed through the halls on SB100, which would have increased barriers to Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unfairly impacting low-income families. This bill was tabled in committee in early April and we were thrilled to see it stay on that table for the rest of the session.


And finally, the big “T” word. We saw some gallant efforts by legislators — ahem, Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter of Billings – who proposed robinhood-like legislation to raise taxes on the wealthy and put that money towards public programs and services. On the other hand, Gov. Gianforte (again: a wealthy tech mogul from NJ) recruited Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson to carry tax bills that would benefit only the wealthiest Montanans and result in massive revenue losses around the state. SB159 and SB399 will be implemented one after the other, allowing the rich to get even richer. These bills will undoubtedly have long-term consequences.

The road to economic justice is a bumpy ride. Consider following along with us and partner organizations like Montana Budget and Policy CenterMontana Women Vote, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana as we buckle up for the journey ahead. And, if you have the means to donate – the Susan Wickland Fund and MT BIPOC Mutual Aid assist marginalized and healthcare-seeking communities.

Voting Rights

With a Republican supermajority that lives and breathes voter suppression, our rights took a hard hit this session. Many horrific bills that will keep eligible citizens from voting passed easily on party-line votes.

One of the biggest, baddest bills of the session, HB176eliminated same-day voter registration (SVR). That’s right folks, SVR is no longer. ICYMI, Montana voters have affirmed time and time again that they want this service; we implemented SVR in 2005, voted overwhelmingly to keep it in 2014, and continue to use this service — 3,352 Montanans used SVR in the 2020 general election alone. That’s a whole lot of voters who might not be able to make their voices heard in future elections.

This session also brought some targeted attacks on voting for young, low-income, and BIPOC folks. SB169, now law, enacts more stringent voter ID requirements and prohibits the use of student ID as an acceptable form of standalone voter ID (don’t worry, concealed carry permits are still allowed). That’s f*cked up. This means that if you’ve been using your student ID or out-of-state license to vote, you might need to bring extra documentation with your name and MT address when you register and go to vote in person. 

Additionally, language inserted into HB530 at the very last minute prohibits paid ballot collection. This prevents groups like our parter org, Forward Montana Foundation, and our other partners from helping voters safely deliver their ballots to their county elections offices on Election Day. An extremely similar law was ruled unconstitutional last year because of its disproportionate impact on rural, Native American voters. This bill, and the other two mentioned above, will have their day in court very soon.

What can you do now? Continue following us on Instagram, follow groups like Western Native VoiceACLU of MT, and MontPIRG, subscribe to the Montana Free Press newsletter, vote in every election, and talk to your friends and family about the importance of protecting our Constitutional right to participate in our democracy.

LGBTQ2S+ Equality

Gosh, y’all. It’s been a bumpy ride, but here we are. Nationally, we have seen more bills directly targeting transgender people than ever before. In Montana, this session brought us a whole slew of bills attacking the rights of LGBTQ+ and especially trans Montanans, and our work is far from over. After thousands of messages sent, dozens of hearings watched, and a few exciting victories, here’s where we stand now:

Thanks to the passage of SB215, it is now legal for people, businesses, and other entities to claim “religious exemption” to civil and criminal laws, including nondiscrimination ordinances. In other states, this has led to LGBTQ+ people being denied services, employers refusing insurance coverage for medications like birth control and PreP, and other extremely dystopian-feeling human rights violations. If this scares you (it should) you can urge your U.S. Congressional representatives to support the federal Do No Harm Act.

We also face new barriers to accurate identification. Under SB280, now law, transgender people who want to change the gender marker on their birth certificate must first go to court and present proof of gender confirmation surgery. This law ignores the fact that most trans people never receive surgery, for a variety of reasons, and still deserve to have identification that reflects who they are. If you were born in Montana and could be impacted by this law, the ACLU wants to hear from you. Reach out to to share your story. 

The final big change we’re grappling with is the passage of HB112, which prohibits transgender girls and women from participating in school sports in Montana. This is blatant discrimination, and similar laws are currently tied up in courts; we foresee the same happening in Montana. For now, though, hold your trans friends a little closer. This isn’t the end of the fight. Contact Senator Tester and Senator Daines and ask them to vote in support of the Equality Act, which could stop these bills in their tracks. 

Let’s end on some good news: we were able to stop not one but TWO bills that aimed to bar transgender children from receiving lifesaving gender-affirming healthcare. We saw these bills pop up across the nation this year, and defeating them here in Montana was no small feat. Each and every one of you who turned up in support of trans youth helped make this happen, and we couldn’t be more grateful. 

So where do we go from here? Let’s figure it out together. We know that in the coming years in Montana, we will need to invest in our communities more than ever. We need to build and strengthen support networks for queer and trans Montanans, ensure that everyone has access to the things they need, and continue having conversations with our neighbors about what it means to be LGBTQ2S+ in Montana. We need to dig into our colonial preconceptions of gender and sexuality, individually and as a society. This is hard work, but we’re in it together. 

If you have dreams about what queer connection could look like in Montana, hit our line. In the meantime, if you are a trans, gender-nonconforming, or Two-Spirit Montanan (or the parent of a child who holds these identities) and are in need of community, you can reach out to to chat about support groups.

Finally, check out this beautiful blog post written by an FMT intern, where she reflects on what it’s been like to be queer in Montana over these last few months. 

Rest, drink water, soak up the sun – our work has just begun. 

What the Helena – Week 17

*May 2, 2021*

Friends, it has been a long session. We feel like we’ve aged ten years in the last four months. We have seen good bills die, bad bills pass, and legislators representing special interests — NOT their constituents. Through it all, one thing has been constant: Montanans like you have shown the f**k up to fight the good fight.

The last week of the session was especially concerning. Bills were hacked apart and voted on at lightning speed, and it’s been nearly impossible to keep up. What we do know is that Montanans deserve better than what we saw this week — rushed government with little (if any) opportunity for public participation.

While the session has come to a close, many ugly bills have been dumped on Gov. Gianforte’s desk for him to either sign or veto. We have one last chance to make our voices heard loud and clear.

Baby one more time

Alright friends, we hope you’ll join us one more time in blowing up Gov. Gianforte’s phone in support of transgender, nonbinary, and Two-Spirit Montanans.

The fate of HB112, the anti-trans sports ban, is now in the Governor’s slippery little hands. We need to make it very clear that we will not tolerate this blatant attack on trans peoples’ right to live their lives in Montana. Give ol’ GG a call at 406-444-3111 or shoot him a message and tell him to veto HB112.

How the actual Helena are we supposed to vote now?!?

Tightening voter ID laws and ending same day voter registration apparently wasn’t enough for some power-hungry Republicans. During a single day last week, three anti-democratic bills passed the legislature along party lines and were sent to Gov. Gianforte’s desk. Ya know what they say: “when it rains, it pours.”

ICYMI, HB651 will insert the legislature and Attorney General into what is supposed to be a citizen-led ballot initiative process. Legalizing marijuana and securing long-term funding for MUS are two great examples of successful ballot initiatives. HB651 authorizes the legislature and the AG to display their opinions at the very top of initiative petitions, which will likely discourage folks from signing on. This undermines the entire purpose of the *citizen-led* initiative process and will make it WAY more difficult to get issues we care about onto the ballot.

A second bill, HB530, will prohibit ballot collection. Each election, organizations like Forward Montana and our partners collect and safely deliver hundreds of ballots for voters across the state. Ballot collect is a lifeline to democracy for SO MANY PEOPLE who can’t make it to their county election offices and HB530 reinstates a policy known as the Ballot Interference Prevention Act (BIPA) that was previously ruled unconstitutional. Election officials and the general public rallied hard against a previous version of the same bill, HB406, which died several weeks ago. The worst of HB406 was amended onto HB530 and passed through the legislature during the final week without any public input. What. The. Actual. Helena. We feel like we’re playing some kind of bad-bill whack-a-mole.

Lastly, HB506 takes a very well-functioning system and changes it for no apparent reason. Currently, county election offices preemptively issue ballots to new voters turning 18 shortly before Election Day. This works great — but some lawmakers just had to mess with it. HB506 will prevent young voters from getting their ballot until the day they turn 18, even if that’s Election Day. So if you’re a first-time voter who needs to vote by mail for whatever reason (say you’re travelling or away at college) you’re SOL — unless you have a time-traveling superpower we don’t know about.

Tell Gov. Gianforte to veto HB651, HB506 and HB530 — these bills infringe on our constitutional rights and create barriers to making our voices heard.

A(nother) sneaky switcheroo

new provision to HB695 would have allowed NorthWestern Energy (NWE) to increase customers’ utility bills for NWE’s own profit while preventing the Public Service Commission (NWE’s regulating body) from keeping the energy monopoly’s expenses within a reasonable limit. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

Two weeks ago, we defeated SB379, NorthWestern’s relentless attempt to take advantage of consumers and pocket more money for their own corporate benefit. But, before we could even breathe a sigh of relief, they managed to wrangle an amendment mirroring SB379 into a completely unrelated bill, HB695. We’ve had enough of corporate bailouts this session, and thankfully, so have your legislators. HB695 didn’t make it to the senate floor before the session ended, so it is dead in the water. If you contacted your legislator to stop these bills, give yourself a pat on the back!

Oh, the hypocrisy!

The hypocrite anthem rang loudly in our ears as GG signed multiple anti-reproductive healthcare bills into law during the final week of the Legislative Session.

The assertion of “pro-life” truly baffles us when the legislature has shown flagrant disregard for so many lives. Trans and queer Montanans? Nah. Indigenous communities? Nah. Does life really matter to you Gov. Gianforte, or only when it’s white, cisgender, or an unborn fetus? 

HB136HB140, and HB171 ban abortion procedures at 20 weeks, seek to shame abortion patients, and restrict medical practitioners’ ability to provide medication abortions. All of which will put doctors and families in difficult situations, disproportionately impacting low-income and rural folks in Montana.

Legal challenges are in the works with the passage of these bills, and we’ll keep working with other organizations to advocate for reproductive healthcare access around the state. 

Villain & Hero of the Week

My dear friends, the final week’s villain is perhaps the most deserving villain we know. Remember when our Governor, Greg Gianfortebody-slammed a reporter, ending with assault charges? Yeah, so do we. And he’s been body-slamming Montanans in all sorts of ways ever since. He touts toxic masculinity wherever he goes and is intent on limiting voting access, restricting women’s healthcare, attacking our judiciary, consolidating his own power, lowering taxes for the wealthy (like himself, shocker!), and just generally thinking he’s above the law.

His cronie, Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, has been playing marionettist and pulling strings in the legislature to an unprecedented extent this session. She was especially vocal in favor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which legalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the name of “religious exemption.”

Just last week, Gov. Gianforte refused to sign HB92, the bipartisan bill that would establish a compensation program for wrongfully convicted Montanans. He returned the bill to the legislature with several amendments — the most notable being that it is now set to expire in 2023, just as the fledgling program would be getting its sea legs. This is a huge middle finger to legal advocates, formerly incarcerated people, and legislators who have been crafting this bill together for years, as well as to the legislature as a whole, which voted in overwhelming support of HB92. Greg, do you just love to see people suffer?

While Gov. Gianforte likes to pretend he’s a salt of the earth ol’ Montanan, let’s not forget: he is, in fact, a rich tech guy from New Jersey who was the wealthiest member of Congress, with a net worth of $135.7 million. Instead of promoting policy to better our state, he’s treating Montana like a new toy to throw around until it’s ruined and then toss aside.

Greg, you are not the future of our Montana. In our Montana, everyone’s right to vote is protected, every body’s right to healthcare is guaranteed, and every person’s identity is welcome. After we send him all the calls, let’s gear up to throw GG back to NJ in 2024. He does not and will never represent us.

Our final hero of the week, dear readers, is you! Through thick and thin, you stuck with us. You sent more emails to the Capitol than we can even count, raising your voices on issues ranging from the anti-trans sports ban to tax breaks for the wealthy. You sent 536 messages to legislators through our action forms alone! Your calls filled voicemail boxes and kept phones buzzing.

Some of the terrible bills you helped kill? A ban on lifesaving healthcare for transgender youth. A bill to reinstate the death penalty in Montana. A death blow to Montana’s solar industry. An attempt to increase barriers to Medicaid and SNAP. Thanks to you, those bills were left in the dust. If that isn’t heroism, we DK what is.

Here’s the thing: a lot of the legislators pushing hateful rhetoric are scared of young people power. They are genuinely threatened when young people start rallying together and speaking their minds. That’s why we have to keep doing it.

There are so many ways to make change, and transforming the system from within is just one of them. But if you want to run for office, give us a ring. We’d be behind you all the way. 

This is our last regular issue of What the Helena. Next week, we’ll send out a summary of the major changes that this session has brought to our beloved state.

If you have enjoyed the weekly updates this session and want to help us continue providing content like What the Helena, please consider making a donation to Forward Montana. 

What the Helena – Week 16

Stylized text 'What the Helena' with sub-heading reading 'Forward Montana's Weekly Gudie to the 2021 legislative session'

*April 25, 2021*

The final day of the legislative session — known as sine die — inches closer by the day, though lawmakers seems to be speeding up before they slow down.

One hateful bill down, two to go

Put on your party pants, people! This week, the Senate voted to indefinitely postpone HB427, which would have prevented transgender youth from accessing lifesaving healthcare. Over 700 of you sent messages in opposition to this bigoted bill and every one of those brought us a little closer to this win. Take a moment to celebrate and then join us in doubling down in our efforts to support trans youth.

We hate to be party poopers, but there’s some bad news, too. SB215, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which allows religion to be used as a defense for discrimination, was signed into law on Thursday despite over 1,300 messages sent to the legislature in opposition. We’ll keep you posted on what comes next.

And a couple bills are still being decided. HB112, the bill to ban transgender athletes from participation in school sports, has gone on a long and winding journey through the legislature. After a rollercoaster of amendments and close votes, it will now make its way to Governor Gianforte. Across the country, governors and legislatures are realizing that bills like this have no place in our schools. Let’s keep the pressure on Gov. Gianforte to follow suit. SB280, which requires trans people to present proof of surgery in court in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificate, is also through the legislature and in the Governor’s hands. Both of these bills attempt to make life harder for trans people in Montana.

We are so, so close to the finish line of this session. We just need you to keep your foot on the gas for a little bit longer. Tell Gianforte to slam the brakes on HB112 and SB280. This is our last chance to squash these bills before they become law. 

Stop f*cking with ballot initiatives

Imagine you’re an impassioned citizen looking to make change in your community. You decide to try and get an issue that’s important to you on the ballot during the next election through a ballot initiative. You spend months collecting data, educating the public, and gathering thousands of signatures alongside your fellow organizers. It’s basically a full-time job.

If HB651 becomes law, good luck getting your initiative on the ballot. It would add extra steps to the already arduous citizen-driven ballot initiative process. HB651 would not only require a legislative committee to vote on every initiative and include the outcome of that vote on the initiative petition, but would now also require the MT Attorney General to put a warning at the top of that petition if the initiative will negatively impact “one or more businesses.” The problem is, the Attorney General could argue that virtually any initiative adversely affects one or more businesses, deterring potential signers from voicing their support. Tbh, we wish we could put a warning on the Attorney General anytime he impacts one or more of our lives.

Make sure to send your representative a message asking them to keep initiatives in the hands of Montana citizens (where they belong), NOT our politicians. 

Settler colonialism: not a thing of the past  

Settler colonialism is an ongoing process that uses violent means to remove and erase Indigenous peoples from their lands in order to make way for settlers. It underlies every aspect of our lives in Montana and the Capitol is no exception. SB214, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, is the latest iteration of anti-Indigenous policy being pushed in the legislature, and to understand it, we have to look all the way back to 1887

That’s the year of the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act. It broke up tribal lands into individual parcels and sold the remaining lands to white settlers. This created a patchwork of ownership and two distinct land statuses within reservations: trust land and fee land. Allotment’s ultimate goal? To assimilate Native Americans into non-Native society — a form of genocide.

Since the allotment period ended in 1934, tribes have worked to re-consolidate their lands from fee to trust status via a time-consuming and expensive process. SB214 would disrupt that process by revising property tax exemptions for tribal nations, erecting barriers to land consolidation efforts and essentially punishing tribes for the federal government’s bureaucracy. SB214 disregards tribal nations’ political status as sovereign nations in a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. 

The state legislature has no business attempting to tax sovereign nations. Get in touch with your senator and tell them to vote NO on this anti-Indigenous bill.

We’ve had it with NorthWestern Energy

Over the past few weeks, thousands of Montanans rose against SB379, a bill that would have handed NorthWestern Energy (NWE) a blank check for the continued operation and maintenance of the Colstrip power plant, continuing our state’s reliance on coal while driving up energy bills for 400,000 Montana households. It would have been bad for our bank accounts and bad for the planet. Your legislators noticed, and voted 11-1 to table SB379 in committee. 

But NWE’s greed is relentless. The company managed to finagle an amendment into a totally unrelated bill, HB695. This amendment features similar language to SB379, in that it would allow the company to increase customers’ energy bill prices for their own profit and prevent the Public Service Commission (NWE’s regulating body) from keeping NWE’s expenses within a reasonable limit. The cherry on top? The amendment was introduced by lover-of-all-things-coal, Sen. Duane Ankney of, you guessed it, Colstrip.

You helped keep Montana’s energy monopoly and its investors — some of the biggest corporations in the world — in check, and you can do it again! Contact your senator now and ask for their NO vote on HB695.

Hert(z)ing Montana’s future

Turns out, it ain’t over until it’s over. SB159, a bad tax bill we thought was behind us, was resurrected last week. Sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, SB159 drops the personal income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.75%, benefitting Montana’s wealthiest and resulting in state revenue losses of $30 million annually.

SB159’s partner in crime, SB399, also sponsored by the one-and-only Sen. Hertz, aims to completely overhaul Montana’s tax system while increasing taxes on 1 in 5 taxpayers — including middle-income earners. Together these bills could create a domino effect as state revenue loss topples into deep budget cuts for social services, like we saw in 2017Given its serious consequences, debates on SB399 should have started months ago — not during the session’s 11th hour.

TL;DR; If you dream of a Montana with affordable housing, healthcare for all, or accessible higher education, these long-term revenue reductions would put a damper on that dream. Call the Capitol Switchboard TODAY at 406-444-4800 and tell your representative to vote NO on SB399 and SB159. 

When the voting gets tough, we keep fighting

Voting, my friends, is not supposed to be difficult. If you decide you want to register and vote on Election day or if you don’t have the money for a valid voter ID — you still deserve to vote.

Republican legislators and our Governor claim to care about defending the Constitution — as they introduce arbitrary rules to strip us of our constitutional rights. Defending the Constitution, our a$$. On Monday, Governor Gianforte signed HB176, which ends same-day voter registration (a service the majority of Montanans want to keep), and SB169, which introduces stricter voter ID requirements. These bills will keep young, low-income, Native American, and rural folks from voting.

Friends, here is our new, restrictive reality: we can no longer register to vote on Election Day and student ID alone cannot be used to register and vote. For any upcoming elections, we’ll need to plan ahead to make sure we’re prepared to vote well in advance. But don’t think we’re letting this slide without a fight. The ink from Gov. Gianforte’s pen was barely dry when lawsuits were filed against these unconstitutional bills

Burning down the house

It’s not fire season yet, but the Legislature is burning down housing equity and access around the state.

HB259HB401, and HB402, three calamitous housing bills, were signed by Gov. Gianforte last week. While HB259 prohibits cities from adopting inclusionary zoning practices to create more affordable housing options, HB401 and HB402 give landlords (even) more power over their tenants. These bills will exacerbate Montana’s predatory rental environment and make it even harder for local governments to address housing issues — a big middle finger to Montanans who are facing evictions or behind on rent.  

The thing is, while fires can be destructive, they can also pave the way for growth and resiliency. The legislature has now planted seeds for affordable housing efforts across the state to rage brighter and stronger than ever before. Help us fight these fires by engaging with policy efforts by the Montana Housing Coalition, and check out this list of state housing resources.

Villain & Hero of the Week

Although he’s been conveniently quiet lately, we couldn’t let the session end without crowning Rep. Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls as our villain. He campaigned on tax policy, public lands, and job creation, but his legislative record paints a different picture. Braxton introduced three bills this session, none of which had anything to do with jobs, taxes, or public lands. In fact, Mitchell’s most notable bill would have designated antifa as a terrorist organization. Cue eye roll emoji. 

First of all, antifa is not an “organization.” It is a broad term to describe anyone who is against fascism. So what does that make Rep. Mitchell? An anti-anti-fascist is…? During the bill’s hearing, he demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the very issues he was attempting to legislate.

Rep. Mitchell has made more uninformed and harmful statements than we can realistically fit here, including flat-out ridiculous misinformation about trans people. Another example: He advocated to put guns on college campuses and made the erroneous argument that more guns will protect women from sexual assault. Evidence shows introducing guns to abusive situations does not make women safer; in fact, it does just the opposite

Don’t get us wrong — we’re stoked to see young people elected to the legislature. However, the bills he’s advocated for and the policies he pushed show that Rep. Mitchell isn’t showing up for all Montanans. We’re thankful to the brilliant, politically engaged young people who are working to make Montana a place we can all thrive. If you’re one of those people and you live in House District 3 — let’s chat about running for office.

Criminal justice advocate. Defender of young people. First openly gay legislator in Montana. Our hero this week, Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula, has shown unfaltering commitment to Montanans since her first term as a legislator in 1996.

Few things bring us more joy than when Sen. Sands speaks her mind with honesty. During a hearing on SB158, which would have allowed legislators to carry guns inside the Capitol building, Sen. Sands pointed out that adding guns into an already heated decision-making environment could be disastrous.

Most recently, she has fiercely defended our government’s checks and balances amid a constitutional crisis brought about by the Gianforte Administration and legislative Republicans’ attack on the judiciary — a dangerous attempt to politicize an independent branch of government. In a joint statement with former Hero of the Week Rep. Kim Abbott of Helena, Sands stated: “Democrats will defend our constitution against this brazen assault on the bedrock American principle of checks and balances, and hold our colleagues accountable for this severe overreach.”

Thank you, Sen. Sands, for your commitment and dedication to the people of Montana. Your energy is contagious!

Our legislative team is getting ready to sign off! We’ll see you next week for one final issue.

What the Helena – Week 15

Stylized text 'What the Helena' with sub-heading reading 'Forward Montana's Weekly Gudie to the 2021 legislative session'

*April 18, 2021*

Events this week:

Sunday, April 18 (Today!): Time to channel your inner Bob Ross, because we’re hosting a statewide, collaborative art project exploring what economic justice means to young Montanans. Sign up to participate by the end of the day today!

Monday, April 19: Students from across Montana will be holding a protest at the Capitol building in Helena against HB112, the anti-trans sports ban. The protest starts at 11am. Bring your masks and signs!

The Montana witch trials 

Hopefully you caught our midweek update on the constitutional crisis unfolding at the Capitol. ICYMI: Legislative Republicans are trying to intimidate the Montana judiciary, an independent branch of government. This is a dangerous attempt to disrupt our government’s checks and balances and undermine the Montana Constitution. It’s clear the Gianforte Administration sees the judiciary as their last barrier to unilateral, unchecked Republican control. Make sure you’re paying attention as this story develops.

Extreme Makeover: Amendment Addition 

Last week in voting rights legislation, HB506 and HB651 went through some extra-scary makeovers. 

A new amendment to HB506 would prevent election clerks from giving soon-to-be eligible young voters their ballots until the elector’s 18th birthday. That means you’d be SOL if you happen to turn 18 the week before Election Day and would like to vote by mail. That’s not a very nice birthday present.

HB651 concerns citizen-driven ballot initiatives. Two examples of citizen-driven initiatives are the 6-Mill Levy (which has kept university tuition costs down) and I-190 (which decriminalized recreational marijuana). Getting an initiative on the ballot is not an easy feat, requiring thousands of signatures and approval from the Secretary of State. HB651 makes it even harder by requiring a legislative committee to review the initiative and weigh in before signature collection begins.

We were hoping to see an amendment taking the legislature’s hands OUT of this process, however, things took a very wrong turn. HB651 was instead amended to give the Secretary of State more power to define the fee that signature gatherers must pay. We’ve gotta keep up the pressure and ask the Senate State Admin Committee to vote NO on HB651

Just 98 pages of simplicity 

A couple weeks ago we had a surprise awakening to another regressive tax bill. SB399, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, is referred to as the tax simplification bill, which makes us ROFL. At 98 pages long, it’s a g*ddamn novel (ok, a short novel). 

SB399 completely overhauls Montana’s current income tax system and would lower the income tax rate on high earners, costing the state roughly $40 million in revenue annually. Most concerningly, it was introduced late in the session and is now being pushed through the legislature at record speed. Remember the last time you tried to make a multi-million dollar decision that quickly? Neither can we. Let’s muster our energy and stop this bill. Tell your representative to vote NO on SB399.

Luckily, we can rip a page from the book of tax horrors. SB159 — a different tax bill from Sen. Hertz benefitting only Montana’s wealthiest — died in committee!!

Former hero of the week continues acts of heroism

A while back, we celebrated our hero Rep. Kathy Kelker of Billings for introducing HB92, a bill that would financially compensate people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes

We are THRILLED to report that HB92 sailed through both chambers with strong bipartisan support. Now, it just needs to get its pennies and dimes nailed down in a finance committee before it heads off to the Governor’s desk, but its chances are looking good. This is a very exciting step down the long, long road of reparations for people harmed by Montana’s criminal (in)justice system, and we couldn’t be happier.

What can we say except, “Thank You!” 

As a child, did adults ever nag you to write thank you cards after your birthday or holidays? How about when bad bills died in the legislature? We’d like to play “adult” for a minute and ask you to express some appreciation to our legislators who have protected Montanans’ access to healthcare… What better way to spend your Sunday?

SB100, sponsored by Sen. Cary Smith of Billings, would make it harder to access public assistance programs like Medicaid or SNAP, disproportionately affecting low-income Montanans. It would put 22,000 eligible Montanans in jeopardy of losing vital services. SB100 was tabled in its committee, but could be revived at any time. Thank your representative as soon as you can for voting to table SB100, and urge them to stick with their NO votes!

HB337, sponsored by Rep. Caleb Hinkle of Belgrade, was a constitutional amendment to redefine personhood and give a fertilized egg the same rights as an adult Montanan. This would have banned all abortions in Montana and could have outlawed many forms of birth control. HB337 needed 100 votes in both the House and Senate, and failed with only 95! Express your gratitude to your legislators for voting against HB337! (Find out how they voted here.)

Who does your legislator really work for?

As the session approaches the finish line, legislators are exhausted and #overit — so we’re seeing bills being scheduled for votes at death-defying speeds. In the environmental realm, legislation shares a common theme: the GOP sucking up to corporations at Montanans’ expense.

First up, SB379, the billion dollar bailout bill, brought by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls (whose dad was a lobbyist for NorthWestern Energy, ahem.) SB379 hands a blank check to NorthWestern Energy (NWE) shareholders for investments in the outdated Colstrip power plant, while driving up energy bills for Montana households. One such shareholder? BlackRock, an investment management company with $8.67 trillion in assets. As if they need more money from Montanans. SB379 is hanging out in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. Send them a note ASAP to vote NO on this appalling bill.  

The following bills are all on Gov. Gianforte’s desk:

HB273 – Ah, the anti-democracy bill from former villain of the week Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell. This bill would overturn a long-standing initiative known as I-80, which gives Montanans the right to vote on any proposed nuclear facilities in the state, and would essentially eliminate public input on nuclear energy. Yikes.

HB481 – This chilling anti-protest bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby, would increase penalties for trespassing and/or vandalizing energy infrastructure, like pipelines. Those found to have caused damage could be hit with a felony charge punishable by massive fines and up to 30 years in prison. It’s the fossil fuel industry’s response to #NoDAPL and is designed to intimidate climate advocates.

HB576 – This bill was initially written to eliminate the Montana Renewable Portfolio Standard, which was created to encourage renewable energy development across Montana. HB576 was amended (thanks to slimy suggestions from NWE’s head lobbyist) to also repeal the Community Renewable Energy Projects requirement — letting NWE off the hook for $2.5 million it owes to tribal and low income energy assistance programs.

Tell Gov. Gianforte it’s time to prioritize Montanans’ livelihoods over the wealth of corporations. 

But … don’t give up hope! SB260, one of the most concerning climate bills, died on the House floor this week. It would have discouraged the state from regulating all kinds of industry, affecting environmental regulation, public safety, and welfare. For the win!

Villain & Hero of the Week

This week’s villain earned his shameful title by going out of his way to allow state-sanctioned cruelty. Rep. Dennis Lenz of Billings sponsored HB244, a bill that would reinstate the death penalty in Montana — at a time when public support for capital punishment is at an all-time low

It’s been a while since we talked about HB244, so here’s a refresher: right now, the death penalty is technically legal in Montana, but the state cannot carry out executions. That’s because the drug being used didn’t meet the state’s own “ultra-fast acting” requirement. HB244 would strike that requirement, allowing lethal injection to be performed using “any substance in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death.” This means executions would resume with lower-quality, less regulated, and more painful drugs.

Let’s be clear: our villain has so little regard for the value of human life that he felt it appropriate to joke about corrections officers injecting people with antifreeze.  

Many pharmaceutical companies are refusing to sell lethal injection drugs to states. We never thought we’d see the day that Big Pharma had a stronger moral compass than… well… anyone. In an exciting turn of events on Thursday, HB244 failed on the Senate floor by just two votes. If your senator voted NO, take a minute to thank them!

Nasty voting rights legislation can’t squeak past Sen. Janet Ellis of Helena. Last week she raised her voice on the Senate floor against HB406, which would have prevented anyone except a family member or postal worker from delivering your completed ballot to your county elections office if you’re unable to get there yourself. That means no help from your roommate, your partner, or even your fiance!

Sen. Ellis pointed out that even if a family member were able to deliver your ballot, there are other barriers in this bill — like requiring the ballot-deliverer to register with the county elections office and bring a written permission slip to submit your ballot. Talk about making a simple process extremely difficult for no f*cking reason.

Sen. Ellis’s comments highlighted the complete ridiculousness of this bill (quick refresher: a similar measure was ruled unconstitutional by the Montana courts just last year), and thankfully, helped send it packing. Yes, HB406 died on the Senate floor! We are absolutely elated — and you should be too!

During a session that makes us all want to run away from Capitol Hill and never look back, we admire Senator Ellis’s respectful but pointed arguments against restrictive voting rights legislation, both in committee and on the Senate floor. 406 cheers for Senator Ellis! Make sure to pass her a thank you for all her hard work. 


Friends, we know it’s a long few months, but last week brought several significant victories. Let’s savor them when we can. Thanks for chugging along with us. 

Queer in Montana: Reflecting on the 2021 Legislative Session

The following is an Op Ed reflecting on anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation, written by one of our Spring Missoula interns, Abby Hobbs: 

On Tuesday, March 16th, over 20 local members of the LGBTQ2S+ community gathered in a safe space to share our woes, challenges, fears and self-care tips regarding the legislative session. Here in Montana, the legislative session has caused anxiety and fear to rise in our community. Our legislators have pushed at least 10 anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills in just four short months, and the passage of much of this legislation feels inevitable. Some of the most troubling bills, such as those that are anti-trans, have come under the guise of “religious freedom restoration acts”.

This session has been particularly bad for the trans community, as many of these bills target transgender people in particular. Unfortunately, this trend is not unique to Montana. According to the ACLU, a whopping 100+ bills in 33 different states have been introduced to prevent transgender youth from participating in school sports. HB112, which would prohibit trans women from participating on women’s sports teams, has been labeled by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the most dangerous bills to the trans community in the country. Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign has recorded that 2021 has broken the record for the most anti-transgender pieces of legislation introduced in history. These are not statistics our community is stoked about, that’s for sure. 

On February 2nd, Republican State Senator Carl Glimm introduced SB215, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As an informational Instagram post courtesy of Forward Montana explains, this broad law could allow any person, business, or other entity to use “religious freedom” as an excuse to discriminate against a person or a group of people, meaning that anyone from landlords to employers could place their religious beliefs before the humanity of their community members by denying them housing, employment, and/or any other good or service. Regardless of whether or not the author of this bill sought to target the LGBTQ2S+ community, the consequences for us now that this bill has passed could be dire.

So what’s the deal? How come we are seeing so many anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills right now? CNN reports that since 2015, anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation has been on the rise, coinciding with the 2015 marriage equality act passed by President Obama. However, these increases are not coming from the people. According to American Values Atlas, in 2021 71% of Americans support LGBTQ2S+ Nondiscrimination Protections. On top of that, only 1-3% of Americans believe that banning transgender people from sports should be a legislative priority at all. These bills are not being pushed by the will of the people but instead represent a small but vocal group of extreme right-wing conservatives. 

Montana is redder than it has been in decades. With Republican control of the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s Office, Montana has been declared a “state-government trifecta”. Between John Fuller of Whitefish (sponsor of HB112, HB113, and HB427), Jed Hinkle of District 67 (the congressman who was stoked that a consequence of these bills may be LGBTQ2S+ people leaving the state), and numerous others it is easy to feel disheartened. If our legislators aren’t going to stand up for us, who will? 

During the event on March 16th, we talked about this issue: How do we take care of each other when it feels like every politician in the state is working to abolish our existence? I’ve thought a lot about this and have struggled to come up with a good list of self-care tips because it does feel a bit hopeless at times. Then I was reminded by a very inspiring individual that queer and trans people are magical. We have always and will always exist. With that, here are a few of my favorite tips to take care of yourself and others: 

  • Seek out queer media, content and literature. Queer movies, TV shows, books, TikToks, and social media are abundant in this day in age, and sometimes they provide the boost of queer serotonin you may be looking for (this one is my personal favorite).
  • Maintain a meaningful connection between your mind and your body by taking time to exercise, meditate, or practice mindful breathing. 
  • Get creative! Making queer art, cooking, or playing music can be great ways to express yourself and control the small things in your life. 
  • Seek out queer communities. The pandemic has limited our in-person activities, but for many, the virtual communities have opened a lot of doors for connecting with larger LGBTQ2S+ groups of people. 
  • Check-in on your LGBTQ2S+ friends.

Finally, if you are reading this and have been personally impacted by the onslaught of hateful anti-queer rhetoric this legislative session, know you are not alone. If anything, the last year and this legislative session have taught me that this community is resilient, and we aren’t going anywhere. 

What the Helena – Week 14

Stylized text 'What the Helena' with sub-heading reading 'Forward Montana's Weekly Gudie to the 2021 legislative session'

*April 11, 2021*

We hope y’all are staying healthy, safe, and taking care of yourselves. If you haven’t already heard, COVID-19 vaccinations are now available to all Montanans over 16 years old. They are free and don’t require insurance, so go get that jab!

Save the date: Forward Montana is collecting submissions for a zine featuring trans, queer, and Two-Spirit Montanans that centers on trans joy. The deadline to submit your poetry, visual art, queer history, and letters of support to trans Montanans is tomorrow, April 12th.

Show me the money, no strings attached

In mid-March, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), distributing $1.9 trillion in federal aid to combat the economic effects of COVID-19. About $2 billion of that pot of gold is headed right here to the Treasure State.

HB632, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell, allocates these funds to water and wastewater projects, public and private schools, broadband expansion, rental assistance, workforce development, COVID-testing and vaccine distribution, and much, much more. ARPA doubles the capacity for state spending this year and is a “once in a generation” opportunity to pay for projects across the state that are often left unfunded. We’ll take it.

BUT (you didn’t think it could be that simple, did you?) there’s currently a sly little provision in the bill that would reduce funding by 20% to local jurisdictions, tribal governments, and schools with COVID-19 regulations stricter than the state’s — for example, mask mandates. This is a cruel attempt to punish local governments who have followed national public health guidelines and taken action to protect their communities.

HB632 passed the House and is now headed to the Senate for additional debate. Let your senators know that you’d like to see this outrageous provision removed from an otherwise very promising piece of legislation.


Spotted: four bills making their way through the halls of the Capitol, weaving in and out of chambers like New Yorkers down Fifth Avenue. They’re fast, they’re sneaky, and they are BAD. Could it be… It is! HB112, HB427, SB215, and SB280, the whole posse of wannabe laws targeting trans and queer people. And where are they headed, you might ask? Well, Upper East Siders, it looks like these bills are beelining straight toward Room 204. It’s time to call GG.

It’s time to call GG — not Gossip Girl but Governor Greg Gianforte (although if you have their number, let us know). Demand that Governor Gianforte veto all four of these dangerous, unnecessary bills. This is the last step in the process before these bad boys become law, and there’s no time to lose. Tell our Governor that Montana does not tolerate discrimination.

This land is your land, this land is my land, this land is stolen land

Maybe you attended last week’s rally for public lands on Montana Day, 4/06. Maybe public lands access is an important issue for you. Regardless, this is your time to get calling and emailing.

HB320 is due in the Senate Natural Resources Committee tomorrow, and it would lay the groundwork for the transfer of federally-managed public lands to state ownership. Remember, this bill sounds harmless, but it would have devastating consequences for Montana public lands, and could overwhelm state agencies with lands they can’t properly manage — resulting in the eventual sales of those lands to private interests.

Remind the Senate Natural Resources Committee that Montana legislators made campaign promises to protect public lands. It’s time to uphold those promises. Message the committee ASAP.

A landlord and a contractor walk into the Capitol building…

Rep. Steven Galloway of Great Falls (a landlord) and Rep. Sue Vinton of Billings (a general contractor) have introduced a slew of bills making housing — surprise! — less accessible in Montana and they are on their way to Governor Gianforte. Oof.

Rep. Galloway brought HB401, HB402, HB541, and HB439, which give landlords more power over tenants, effectively impacting about a third of Montana’s entire population. But no worries Galloway, as long as you and your pals have a roof over your heads, right?!

Hand-in-hand with Galloway (since physical distancing isn’t practiced at the Capitol), is Rep. Vinton and HB259. It would restrict local governments from adopting “inclusionary zoning” ordinances, which require new housing developments to include a certain percentage of affordable homes. Bozeman and Whitefish currently have these in place and HB259 will curb their affordable housing efforts.

Legislation like this helps galvanize our fight for housing as a human right. We have an opportunity to contact Gov. Gianforte’s office today & urge him to VETO these bills.

We mari-wanna legalize marijuana

Back in 2019, you probably saw at least a few people with pot leaf posters in your Montana town. As you walked by, they most likely asked you to sign their snazzy clipboard. And if you signed it, congrats, your signature helped get I-190 onto the ballot in 2020 — which legalized recreational marijuana in Montana. Supherb.

That, my dudes, is called a ballot initiative. If an ordinary Montana citizen decides they want to put an issue up for a vote, they have to jump through some major hoops and get a ton of signatures, but then BAM — there it is on the ballot. Another badass example of a ballot initiative is the 6-Mill Levy, which secured continued funding for the Montana University System for the next 10 years, keeping tuition from skyrocketing.

What’s not badass is HB651. This bill requires that before a citizen can collect signatures on an initiative, a legislative committee must vote on it, and their vote is then displayed to signers. It also requires signature gatherers to pay a fee and register with the Secretary of State. What that means for us is fewer initiatives on the ballot, and less citizen-led policy change. If you’re not down for that, contact the Senate State Admin Committee and ask ‘em to vote NO on HB651.

NWE ruins everything… again

Hotseat! Can you name which corporate monopoly has their slimy fingers all up in the legislature? If you guessed NorthWestern Energy (NWE), you are correct. This week, they managed to hijack a promising rooftop solar bill with bipartisan backing and turn it into an attack on Montana’s solar industry. Thx, NWE.

Sponsored by Rep. Joshua Kassmier of Fort Benton, HB448 originally attempted to allow Montana’s small businesses, schools, and libraries to produce their own energy and offset energy costs. That is, until NWE got its hands on it. In its new form, HB448 will prevent the Public Service Commission (the regulatory body for NWE) from negotiating fair rates for solar owners AND take jobs away from solar industry professionals by forcing customers to hire non-solar installers — with little to no experience with solar systems — to do ongoing maintenance checks (seriously wtf?!).

If you’re starting to get sick of hearing about NWE, TBH so are we. Speak out against corporate power and maybe you’ll start to hear a lot less about them. Tell your senator to vote NO on HB448.

Whispering Sweet Goodbye(s)

Boy does it feel good to bid farewell to discriminatory legislation. Last week we mentioned HB676 and SB100, two bummer bills that make it harder for families to access crucial public assistance programs like Medicaid, SNAP, or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

We’re thrilled to announce that HB676, sponsored by perma-villain Rep. Jane Gillette of Bozeman, was put to rest last week in committee! Cue a long-awaited sigh of relief. We’re waving bye, bye to Rep. Gillette and her heartless bill.

Don’t waste too much time celebrating though. We still need to say toodles to SB100, sponsored by Sen. Cary Smith of Billings, and protect the benefits of low-income folks who are eligible for these programs. Please take a minute to tell the House Human Services Committee that we should be eliminating barriers to critical public services, and vote NO on SB100!

Villain & Hero of the Week

Rep. Kathy Whitman of Missoula had assured her constituents she’d vote with their interests in mind. But oddly enough, things just didn’t shake out that way (insert eyeroll emoji).

Rep. Whitman initially voted against HB176, a bill to end same-day voter registration (SDR), because, as she explicitly noted, she received overwhelming constituent opposition to the bill. Indeed, 81% of her constituents voted to keep SDR in 2014. Rep. Whitman’s “no” vote was just enough to table (aka kill) the bill in committee.

Unfortunately, this isn’t where the story ends. HB176 is not only still alive, but on the Governor’s desk, about to be signed into law. How did that happen? Well, despite overwhelming evidence that her constituents support SDR, Rep. Whitman changed her vote to pass the bill.

Because of Rep. Kathy Whitman’s fickle politics, we will no longer have same-day voter registration. That means Montanans everywhere could be turned away from the polls on Election Day, unable to exercise the most fundamental right of our democracy — our godd*mn right to vote. Rep. Whitman, we find nothing more villainous than voting against the very people that elected you. When you’re up for re-election, they might just vote against you.

On the flip side, there’s the radiant Sen. Mary McNally of Billings, who consistently speaks out against bad policies — especially legislation that benefits wealthy corporate shareholders over the citizens of Montana.

Last week, Sen. McNally fought back for all energy utility customers of Montana during the Senate debate on SB379, arguably the worst climate bill of the session. It would put Montanans on the hook for NorthWestern Energy’s irresponsible investments in Colstrip, an aging coal-fired electric plant, by forcing households to pay an extra $700 per year.

McNally expressed strong concerns about the impacts SB379 will have on Montanans. She argued the bill “gives a blank check to the utility to do pretty much whatever it wants [with the Colstrip power plant] moving forward… This bill is saying, whatever happens, the ratepayers are going to pay for it.” Tell ‘em!!

We are grateful for legislators who call bullsh*t when they see it. Thank Sen. McNally for her consistent hard work in the interest of the people, and tell your representative to vote NO on this corporate bailout bill.

On this week’s podcast, we preview a bonus episode breaking down all things housing in MT. The full bonus episode drops Wednesday. Check it out!

What the Helena – Week 13

*April 4, 2021*

Events this week:

Tuesday, April 6 — Join us and some of our partners for a virtual Public Lands Rally from 12-1pm. We’ll hear short speeches from Conrad Anker (climber, mountaineer, & author), Francine Spang-Willis (board member, Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation), Rachel Schmidt (former director, MT Office of Outdoor Recreation), and Andrew Posewitz (sportsman & hunting ethics advocate). And we’ll remind our legislators to protect the lands we love.

A message to trans Montanans: We love you!!!!!!!

Last week HB112, the bill to ban trans kids from participating in school sports, sponsored by Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish, passed through the Senate. The bill will now make one last appearance in the House before it heads to the Governor’s desk — its last stop before becoming law. SB215, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which could allow discrimination in the name of religious freedom, is on the same path. As these bills inch closer to becoming our reality, we want to be very clear: Montana is better because of trans people.

These hearings and debates have been full of hateful, ignorant speech. Proponents have spread dangerous misinformation about trans people. They have tried to send the message that trans people, especially trans children, are not welcome to live as themselves in Montana. We reject that message. We’re going to keep raising hell about these bills and we also want to send a clear signal that trans kids are valued members of our communities who are deserving of joy, care, and love.

If you identify as LGBTQ2S+, consider submitting art, writing, or a letter of support to our upcoming zine, Transcendent Joy. If you need to be with other trans folks right now or if you are a parent of a trans, nonbinary, or Two Spirit child and want to talk with people who understand, email for information about support groups facilitated by the Montana Gender Alliance. If there is other support you need and can’t find, or if you have dreams for what community support could look like moving forward, contact Izzy at izzy@forwardmontana.orgWe take care of us

Maybe it’s Maybelline, maybe it’s white supremacy

Indigenous people finally won the right to vote less than a century ago, after decades of advocacy. But Native American voters continue to face significant barriers to the ballot box in Montana.

Over the past few weeks, HB613, the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA), was whittled down significantly in an attempt to negotiate between the bill sponsor, county clerks, and Tribal governments. In its compromised form, HB613 lost support from a few tribes and initial proponents, and ultimately died on the House floor.

Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish spoke in opposition to NAVRA though he wasn’t even able to articulate his reasoning, stating “I have some angst regarding the bill, and I’m not sure where it comes from.” Interesting… Could it be that your “angst” comes from a need to hold onto your white power and privilege? Just a thought.

We’d like to acknowledge the bill sponsor — Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy of Crow Agency — and Western Native Voice for their care and perseverance with the effort.

HB613’s tough journey through the legislature reflects the systemic settler colonialism and white supremacy that keep Indigenous voters from exercising their right to participate in democracy here in Montana.

A tale of voter suppression

Once upon a time (in 2005 tho ok), a bipartisan group of Montana legislators decided to establish same-day voter registration, for they did not want to see a single eligible Montana voter turned away from the polls on Election Day. Montanans love same-day voter registration so very much that in 2014 (only 7 years ago, mind you) we voted overwhelmingly to keep it.

BUT then came the year 2021, when legislators decided to strike down same-day voter registration via a dastardly bill called HB176. To make matters worse, many of our elected reps also chose to support SB169, a bill to enact stricter voter ID requirements and make it harder for Montanans — especially students — to vote. These bills are now journeying to the Governor’s Office where they will very likely be signed into law.

Here’s where you, dear reader, come into this story. Send Governor Gianforte a message, and ask him to veto these two bills. Remind him that by signing these voter suppression bills, he’s ignoring the will of Montanans.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention a ridiculous bill attacking our friends and partners in voting rights work, MontPIRG. HB689 attempts to place redundant reporting requirements on organizations that rent space from the Montana University System. Groups like MontPIRG are already required to report on their activities and this bill is nothing but a nefarious attempt to make student groups jump through more hoops. Contact your representative and tell them to focus their efforts on issues that ACTUALLY matter to constituents.

Rolling in the debt

You probably don’t need us to tell you that student loan debt is an issue, but #DYK Montana has some of the fastest growing student debt balances in the nation? From 2007 to 2017, Montana residents experienced a 55% increase in student debt. At this rate, we’re wondering how higher ed will ever be affordable.

HJ25, introduced by Rep. Sarah Novak of Anaconda, would have established an interim study group to examine the historical context of student loan debt, analyze the impacts of tuition freezes and federal loan programs, and look at the outcomes of measures implemented by other states before the next legislative session in 2023. This could’ve been a step in the right direction to force our legislators to reckon with the burden of student debt on young people and our economy. However, like several other bills this session, HJ25 did not get very far.

We’ve heard ridiculous arguments from legislators about how students have “chosen” to incur debt. Someone please tell them nobody chooses to bury themselves with insurmountable debt. Even when attending a state school and working, most students will need to take out significant loans by graduation. Montanans should not be punished for pursuing higher ed.

Bern-ing our healthcare access

**Cue Bernie Sanders voice** Healthcare is a human right! Ah, if only everyone thought like Bernie. Unfortunately Sen. Cary Smith of Billings and Rep. Jane Gillette of Bozeman do not.

They have introduced SB100 and HB676 (respectively), which would increase barriers to healthcare, especially for low to middle-income Montanans. These bills would make it harder for folks to qualify (and remain qualified) for programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and ultimately increase the number of uninsured — and unsupported — Montanans across the state. Catch us screaming at yet another attempt to hang our most vulnerable communities out to dry.

In the midst of a public health crisis, and honestly all-the-f*cking-time, it’s disgusting to see our leaders reducing access to necessary public support programs. Legislators are elected to advocate for their constituents. You tell us — are they doing their jobs?

Tell House Human Services Committee to think about the last time they needed to make a medical decision and reject SB100 and HB676. After you’ve sent a message to the committee, take a second to make sure you’re signed up to #SeeJaneGo. It’s clear our former Villain of the Week is only out for herself.

We won’t back down

Remember the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests? In 2016, Indigenous activists from Oceti Sakowin (the Sioux Nation) came together to protest the DAPL where it was under construction on treaty lands near the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Over months of struggle, the protest grew into the internationally-known Standing Rock Movement.

HB481, sponsored by Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby, is a response to that movement. It introduces additional steep penalties for trespassing and/or vandalization of energy infrastructure: if you’re found to cause damage over a certain threshold, you could be hit with a felony charge punishable by fines up to $150,000 or 30 years in prison. In short, this is a brazen attack on our rights to peaceably assemble in support of a sustainable and equitable climate future.

The fact is, the Standing Rock Movement scared big oil, because it showed how powerful people like you and me can be when we organize. The fossil fuel industry is worried, and that’s why legislation like HB481 is showing up all across the country. But we aren’t intimidated, and we won’t back down.

Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee and remind them of this little thing called a First Amendment right — and to vote NO on HB481.

Villain & Hero of the Week

You know what really grinds our gears? Legislators who seem to care more about corporations than their own constituents. Well, Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls has a major love affair with corporate interests. This week, he brought forward SB379a dangerous bailout bill that would cost Montana households $700 per year. We’re not joking.

Here’s a SB379 refresher: this bill would force NorthWestern Energy’s customers (this is you!) to foot the bill for Unit 4 of Colstrip, a 35-year-old coal-fired electrical power plant in Montana on its last dirty legs. The total cost? Approximately $1.9 billion.

Sen. Fitzpatrick used his opening argument to vilify feedback from the Public Service Commission (PSC), the elected body that regulates NWE. The PSC identified outrageous costs that would fall on consumers, covering Colstrip’s operation, reclamation, remediation (the list goes on) if the bill were to pass. Rather than address their concerns, Sen. Fitzpatrick came after the PSC’s competence, claiming their math was incorrect.

As it turns out, Sen. Fitzpatrick’s father was NWE’s main lobbyist for years. Here’s a message for Sen. Fitzpatrick: since you do a better job representing NWE’s interests than the actual people of Montana, why don’t you quit your day job and follow in your father’s footsteps? Contact your senator ASAP and let them know SB379 does not speak for the interests of Montanans.

Last week, Sen. Pat Flowers of Belgrade stepped up to uphold the rights of trans Montanans.

In the midst of a contentious floor debate on HB112, the bill to ban trans athletes from participating in sports that align with their gender, Sen. Flowers admitted that as an older cisgender white man and a sports fan, he, too, had initially been inclined to support these bans. He changed his mind, though, when he did what very few in the legislature seem to be willing to do: spoke with and listened to people who would actually be impacted. 

Sen. Flowers shared a letter opposing HB112 signed by over a hundred Montana women athletes. And reminded his colleagues this bill addresses a non-issue in Montana, emphasizing that not only is it a solution in search of a problem, but that the bill will become the problem.

Legislators have a duty to listen to the people whose lives they are legislating; Sen. Flowers, you have done just that. We appreciate your transparency, and it gives us hope to know that minds really can be changed. Thank you for being a voice of reason.

Deep breaths. Drink water. We will get through this. We’ll see you next week.

What the Helena – Week 12

*March 28 2021*

If you’re anything like us, you’re tired AF and ready for spring. However, now is not the time to disengage! More than ever, we need everyone contacting their representatives and spreading the word on the multitude of bills moving through our legislature. The good news? Our newsletter makes it super easy! And it takes less than 10 minutes. Seriously, we’ll time you.

Events this week:

Monday, March 29 — Join the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club for a virtual phone bankWe’ll be calling our communities about HB481, a bill that would add severe penalties for fossil fuel protests.

Tuesday, April 6 — Join us, and many of our partners, for a virtual Public Lands Rally!

MT legislative forecast: 100% chance of money 

With only 30 days left in the session, legislators have some extremely important decisions to make regarding that silly green paper that tends to control our existence. Money, that is. And a lot of it.

When the Legislature meets every other year, it’s tasked with discussing the state budget and where to allocate funding for the next two years. This year, Montana is also coming into an additional $2.7 billion, yes BILLION, from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), recently passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden, to aid in COVID-19 recovery. With the current budget and ARPA funding, we’re looking at upwards of $15 billion for our state. Nothing like a pot of gold at the end of a very crooked and not-very-colorful rainbow! And now, what to do with all of it…

First, the budget

Conversations about HB2, the $12.6 billion existing state budget bill sponsored by Rep. Llew Jones of Conrad, have been frustrating, to say the least. As it stands, the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) alone will suffer a $150 million budget loss. House Democrats proposed numerous amendments to direct budget funding back to DPHHS — specifically to Medicaid coverage for children, suicide prevention, and refugee services — which all failed, mostly on party lines. Instead, the GOP seems more concerned with directing funding to things like suing the Biden Administration over the Keystone XL Pipeline and loosening gun regulations in the wake of two tragic mass shootings.

Next, the American Rescue Plan Act

Now that Montana is raining federal cash, Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell has sponsored HB632 to distribute the $2.7 billion in ARPA funds. With anticipated revenue loss resulting from proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, the legislature has no excuse not to direct these extra billions of dollars towards programs that support ALL Montanans. We have an opportunity to restore 2017 budget cuts, invest in affordable housing, fund early childhood education and mental health services, bolster SNAP benefits, and so much more!

Our friends at the Montana Budget and Policy Center are a lot more versed in money-talk and have released an in-depth report on where this funding should be directed. We encourage y’all to give it a look and check out our Instagram post to see how you can take action!

Loud & litigious

Some extremely harmful voting rights legislation is passing with little regard for constitutionality, and we’re pretty fed up with it. It’s time to get loud and, if these bills pass, litigious (aka, we’ll see ‘em in court).

If HB176 passes, you will not be able to register on Election Day. This could mean waving buh-bye to casting your ballot if you moved and forgot to re-register with the correct address. We have one last chance to reach out to our representatives before same-day voter registration is no longer.

If SB169 passes, your student ID will no longer be sufficient to register and receive a ballot and you’ll need to provide extra documentation with your name and MT address. If you’re a student living in the dorms, finding that documentation might be a struggle! Let’s raise hell on how unfair SB169 is to student voters — reach out to your senator.

If HB406 passes, it will be harder for you to get help delivering your ballot to your county elections office. #DYK that an almost identical measure to restrict ballot collection was recently ruled unconstitutional?! If signed into law, HB406 will almost certainly head straight to court (costing taxpayers – aka us – more $$, smh.) Tell the Senate State Admin Committee to save us some tax dollars and vote NO on HB406.

If HB651 passes, it’s gonna be way more difficult for citizens like you and me to put an issue we care about on the ballot (called a ballot initiative). A great example of a successful ballot initiative is I-190, the measure to legalize marijuana approved by voters this fall. Another important example, the 6-Mill Levy, secured game-changing long-term funding for the Montana University System. Under the terms of HB651, I-190 and the 6-Mill Levy may have never even made it onto the ballot for voters to decide. Tell the House State Admin Committee that we’d like to keep the current processes for ballot initiatives, thank you.

The billion dollar corporate bailout bill

Did you know there are a thousand millions in a billion dollars? That is A LOT of dough. Well, NorthWestern Energy (NWE) customers — AKA you — might have to foot a bill of this size if SB379, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls, passes.

This radical bill would allow NWE to force their customers to pick up the tab for Unit 4 of Colstrip, an aging coal-fired power plant.

The three major takeaways:

  1. Montanans cannot afford to pay over a billion dollars for a corporate bailout.
  2. NWE does not need any more power than it already has.
  3. The passage of this bill would remove even more regulatory ability from the Public Service Commission (Remember them? They are the regulatory body for NWE) to hold NWE accountable for running Colstrip in a prudent manner.

This is an extremely dangerous bill for Montanans — and we need your help to stop it! SB379 will be heard on Tuesday, so contact the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee ASAP and tell them to stop this corporate overreach by voting NO on SB379.

Moral Panic! At The Disco

Gay marriage. The Salem Witch Trials. Trans kids playing sports. What do all of these things have in common? They are all made-up problems. And they have all, at some point in time, wiggled their way into the conservative consciousness.

By this point, you’ve likely heard the Montana legislature is considering at least four bills directly targeting the  LGBTQ+ community, specifically trans children: HB112, HB427, SB215, & SB280. This is part of a national trend: across the country, we’re seeing the highest number of anti-trans bills ever introduced in a single year.

These bills are part of a coordinated effort supported by right-wing organizations like the Montana Family Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and was on the frontlines of the conservative battle against marriage equality. ADF has sent representatives to Montana to comment on many of the worst bills we’ve seen this session.

Conservative legislators all over the country are clinging to the remnants of a culture war they’ve been waging for decades. We know they’ll lose in the long run — but this won’t happen on its own. The fight for marriage equality was hard-won by organizers, lawyers, and allies in state legislatures, courtrooms, and media over the course of many years. We need you to keep up the pressure.

Tell your senator to vote NO on HB112 and HB427. Once you’ve got that checked off, let your representative know that they need to vote NO on SB215 and SB280. Do it every day! 

Nu-clear? More like nu-confusing

Temp check – how do you feel about nuclear energy? We know nuclear energy can be baffling. Nuclear power plants don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, but they do produce radioactive waste, which can be dangerous for thousands of years. Marginalized groups have historically shouldered the burden of exposure to radioactive waste.

TL;DR: Nuclear energy has some pros, but it comes with some heavy cons. Because of this, it’s important that all Montanans have the opportunity to weigh in on the possible addition of a nuclear power facility in our state. Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell believes Montanans aren’t smart enough to make this call, which is why he proposed HB273, a bill to overturn a long-standing initiative giving Montana voters the right to approve or reject a proposed nuclear energy facility.

The suggestion that Montanans can’t make our own decisions about whether we want nuclear in our state is, frankly, insulting. Contact the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and tell them to vote NO — let’s respect Montanans’ choices.

Stop hatin’ on renewable energy! 

For the last three months, we’ve been endlessly fighting against legislation prioritizing fossil fuels over renewables. So we were unfortunately not too surprised to hear about HB475, introduced by Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell, which would effectively eliminate the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

“What’s the RPS?” you might ask. This program was implemented 16 years ago to encourage development of renewable energy resources across Montana, and has generated rural economic development opportunities, grown the tax base, and created jobs.

HB475 would add hydropower to the RPS, allowing utilities to fulfill renewable energy requirements with aging hydropower projects. It has an evil twin in HB576, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Schillinger of Circle, which would flat-out eliminate the RPS. Rep. Schillinger and Rep. Skees are sending the industry a message that Montana is hostile to renewable energy development! The RPS has been around for a while — we agree it needs an update, but elimination isn’t the answer.

The good news? YOU can make your voice heard by sending a message to the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and ask for their NO vote on HB475 and HB576.

Villain & Hero of the Week

Rep. Matt Regier of Kalispell made headlines last week by suggesting that cities, counties, and schools with COVID-19 regulations more restrictive than the state’s, such as mask mandates, should not qualify for state-appropriated money. His logic? Individuals should be able to make decisions for themselves, without government mandates.

Here’s where the hypocrisy kicks in. Rep. Regier, alleged champion of individual liberty and freedom from government overreach, is the sponsor of HB167, one of the many anti-reproductive health care bills we’ve seen this session. HB167 is nothing but an inflammatory attempt to stigmatize and politicize the constitutional right to reproductive healthcare. In other words: it’s sticking the government where it doesn’t belong — the very thing that Regier claims to stand against.

Rep. Regier, could it be that you actually care more about your political agenda than the health and safety of Montanans?

If you’ve been reading What the Helena this session, you may have noticed we’ve been using the word “no” quite a bit — saying “no” to bad bills and encouraging a lot of “no” votes.

This week, we’d really like to switch gears and shout “Yes!!” by recognizing champion-of-students, Rep. Andrea Olsen of Missoula. Not only has Rep. Olsen been defending Montanans against putrid bills, she’s also been pushing some very encouraging legislation. She has introduced over 15 progressive bills and advocates for Montanans young, old, and in-between with thoughtful policies that would improve all of our our lives.

Her latest bill, HB654, would increase the tax rate on the top income tax bracket, raising taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Montanans to generate more funding for higher education and lower tuition costs. Many young people came out in support.

During the hearing, Rep. Olsen alluded to the importance of Montana’s young people and future generations, saying, “Education is truly the best investment we can make into our economy and into our state [for] the wellbeing of our constituents.” We couldn’t have said it better, Rep. Olsen. Thank you for fighting for future generations.

Show your appreciation for Rep. Olsen’s efforts by sending House Taxation a message in support of HB654!


Interested in energy & the environment? Check out this week’s podcast, featuring our friends and climate superheroes at the Montana Environmental Information Center.

Until next week!