What the Helena – Week 3

*January 24, 2021*

When the going gets tough… We huddle up

As President Biden moved into the Oval Office last week, Montana legislators continued trucking away in Helena. A full slate of legislation came at us, and a lot of it was, well, alarming. Deep breaths.

Before we dive in, we want to invite you to Forward Montana’s Helena Huddle, happening Thursday, February 4th. This is a casual social hour and opportunity to (virtually) meet other passionate people while learning more about the MT leg session with our team. Look out for an invite coming to your inbox soon!

A Series of Un-FOUR-tunate Bills

Remember last week when we highlighted a group of anti-reproductive healthcare bills entering the House Judiciary committee? Welp, all 4 bills passed out of that committee on Thursday morning.

Just to recap:

  • HB136: would ban abortion at 20 weeks and criminalize doctors who provide them
  • HB140: creates unnecessary barriers to healthcare, seeking to shame and dissuade Montanans from exercising their constitutional right to abortion
  • HB167: would put women’s health and privacy up to a vote with the ultimate goal of banning abortion altogether
  • HB171: would keep Montanans from accessing abortion medication and delay access to healthcare

While all differing slightly, the goal of these bills is ultimately the same: to dramatically restrict access to reproductive healthcare. These bills will be heard on the House floor early next week so there’s no time to waste. Continue to message your legislators and tell them to vote “NO” on these ridiculous attempts to regulate our bodies. 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Voter registration edition

HB176, brought by Rep. Sharon Greef of Florence, is giving us a whole lotta grief. This bill would end late voter registration at 5 PM the Friday before election day, meaning buh-bye to same-day voter registration.

These changes would disenfranchise thousands of Montana voters — particularly Indigenous folks, seniors, students, rural residents, and people with disabilities — who have a difficult time getting to their election offices. In 2014, Montanans voted against LR126, a referendum with basically the exact same intent. Why are we trying to pass legislation that Montanans already voted against?!

The House State Administration Committee will vote on HB176 on Tuesday morning. Contact the committee or your representative and tell them to vote “NO” on this mucky bill! 

Do you want to build a snowman progressive climate future?

Meet HB150, a shining piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell of Helena, which would apply a carbon emissions fee on major fossil fuel companies and power plants doing business in Montana. The neatest part of this bill? $$$ generated would assist communities in their transition away from coal revenue while promoting economic development and tribal community assistance.

This is SUPER important because economically just transitions from coal to renewables are ESSENTIAL to assure workers and their families are not left behind. Hell to the yes! 

At Thursday’s hearing, resident “climate expert,” Rep. Paul Fielder of Thompson Falls, insinuated that climate change isn’t real because global temperatures are decreasing, not increasing. LOL. False. Even more mind boggling? Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway of Great Falls later quoted Frozen (yes, the children’s movie) and pointed to volcanic eruptions as proof that rising carbon emissions won’t hurt humans. We’ll be sending them both a copy of Climate Change 101 via snail mail.

Unfortunately, this bill didn’t pass. Nevertheless, we’re dancin’ at the thought of progressive legislation for climate action!


We’re here, we’re queer, we’re really f***ing tired

HB112 and HB113, the two bills targeting trans youth in Montana, passed out of committee this week. Dozens of opponents — including pediatricians, coaches, parents, mental health professionals, and members of the community — gave heartfelt, personal, and fact-based testimony, imploring the committee to give transgender children the opportunity they deserve to live and thrive free of discrimination. They were met with fearmongering and inaccurate arguments from proponents of the bills, many of whom came from out of state to speak.

Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish, the sponsor of these bills, introduced extensive amendments to HB113 on Friday morning just before the committee vote. This amendment drastically changed the bill, somehow making it even worse than it was to begin with; it expanded the list of banned treatments and introduced additional financial penalties for doctors who provide gender-affirming care. To quote Rep. Danny Tenenbaum of Missoula, proposing huge amendments after the opportunity for public comment is “a terrible way of legislating.” This doesn’t bode well for transparency in the legislative process.

Here are the facts, plain and simple:
1) Trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit youth deserve the same opportunities as their peers.
2) Doctors, not legislators, should be in charge of medical decisions.
3) Montana is home to a vast, impassioned, and deeply supportive queer and trans community.

On our podcast this week, hear several powerful voices in this community: Steven-Bear Twoteeth of the Indigenous Organizers’ Collective, Maris Fessenden, and August Payton.

These bills could move to the House floor as soon as tomorrow morning, so contact your representative literally right this second and tell them that they need to vote “NO” on HB112 and HB113. To community members who may be feeling disheartened — please know that there are still opportunities to defeat these bills. We’ll continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors.

Villain & Hero of the Week

Amidst a global pandemic and economic crisis, this legislator is spending his time and energy attacking children. That’s right, y’all; this week’s villain is none other than Rep. John Fuller.

Fuller is the sponsor of HB112 and HB113. During last week’s hearing (see above), Fuller really leaned into his role as one of the least-informed men in the room.

Despite an outpouring of passionate opposition to these bills, Rep. Fuller continued to spread baseless, dangerous lies about trans people and their medical care. As a staunch Republican, you’d think Fuller would take issue with bills that clearly exercise governmental control over private decisions, but the contradiction seems to be lost on him.

Here, here, hero! On Wednesday morning, Sen. Jen Gross of Billings made a splash during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for HB102 (mmm yes, that campus concealed carry bill again). Members of the public argued this bill would increase suicide risk and campus costs, among other wide-ranging impacts.

Sen. Gross brought up the key point that alcohol and guns combined is, erm, BAD. She spoke to her own experience as a server for many years and called out the missing perspective of restaurant and bar owners — requesting they be brought into the conversation before moving forward.

Her willingness to share her personal experience and ask hard-hitting questions warmed our weary hearts!! Thank you Senator Gross, we are behind you all the way and would love to share a meal with you any day.

[#BTW — keep contacting your legislators around HB102. Concealed carry has no place on our campuses.]

That’s all folks! Hit us up for answers to all your most pressing legislative questions. See you next week!

What the Helena – Week 2

*January 17th, 2021*

Holy smokes, welcome back folks!

An attempted coup on our nation’s democracy as COVID-19 deaths continue to surge – 2021 is shaking out to be quite the year. How is it only January?!

As Inauguration Day for President-elect Joe Biden approaches on January 20th, there have been threats of armed marches at all 50 State Capitols. In Helena, security is heightened and law enforcement is ready to respond if needed. We’ll be thinking about the safety of all representatives and staff this week.

And against this pleasant backdrop, we launched into week two of the session. Here’s what’s been going down.

Business leaders rally for transgender rights

HB112 and HB113, the super nasty bills targeting trans youth, have been getting major attention. More than 150 business leaders, non-profits, and community leaders from across the state signed a joint letter in opposition. These bills are f*cked up to the max and it’s important you make your voice heard NOW — the hearings for these bills have been rescheduled for Monday, January 18th (TOMORROW) at 8am. If either of these bills make it out of committee we will need to MOBILIZE LIKE HELL to make sure they don’t pass on the house floor. Check out our action alert with details here!

Feeling as riled up as we are? Don’t worry – if this bill moves to the Senate floor, we’ll be following closely and will make sure you know how to get involved.

However, it’s not all bad! One example — this past Tuesday, SB16 was heard in committee — this bill would allow minors to consent to emergency shelter and services, which is super important for young people who might be fleeing an abusive situation or have guardians/parents who are out of the picture. This bill would grant unsheltered youth the autonomy they need to secure a safe place to stay.

This could mean big things for queer and Indigenous youth. Queer kids make up around 40% of youth experiencing homelessness, and Indigenous youth are also disproportionately displaced. If this bill moves to the Senate floor, we’ll be following close behind.

Attacks on reproductive health?! Not on our watch.

Friends, we just found out that there will be hearings next week for FOUR (4!!!) slimy anti-reproductive healthcare bills. We thought these bills might trickle in throughout the session, but didn’t expect them to fully Niagara Falls on us only three weeks in. Our legislators have a lot important work to do for us and intruding into our personal, private health care decisions ain’t it.

HB136 and HB171 will be heard in committee Tuesday AM, and HB140 and HB167 will be heard Wednesday AM. Please contact your Representative TODAY and urge them to vote NO on these four dangerous anti-abortion bills. 

Concealed carry? (STILL) Not on my campus!

Remember HB102 from last week? Quick refresher, this bill allows concealed carry of firearms on university campuses, among other places. On Thursday, it passed a vote on the House floor along party lines.

During floor debate, Rep. Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls claimed this bill will protect college-aged women, “who have been finally given the right to defend themselves.” Without any supporting evidence, he claimed that more guns on campus will decrease the frequency of sexual assault, making women safer. Wrong, actually. Evidence shows that guns amplify the inherent power of abusive partners in intimate relationships, putting women at greater risk of being killed. Do your research, dude.

Roll up your sleeves, folks, because HB102 will move to the Senate next and we will have another chance to tell our legislators why this bill is bad-news-bears for students and faculty at Montana universities. If you’d like to submit a public comment, contact Grace at grace@forwardmontana.org!

Barriers to voting… How is this still a thing?!

Here we are, in 2021, fighting for equity at the polls once again. However, we’re starting on a positive note!

SB15, introduced by Sen. Janet Ellis of Helena, would make casting a ballot more accessible for people with disabilities by requiring electronic interface devices at all polling locations, including for school elections. This is a welcome addition to services that are already in place for voters with disabilities, and we’re hoping it passes with flying colors! It will be heard in the Senate State Administration Committee on January 22nd. Hit up the committee and tell them to vote yes for SB15!

WTF is a levy?

A ‘levy’ uses tax money to fund all kinds of necessary public services – things like higher education, transportation infrastructure, fire departments, and municipal water systems.

Historically, levy measures have required a simple majority to pass. HB107 would change thisrequiring all levy measures to reach a 2/3rds majority. Many levies that have passed over the years (including the 6-Mill Levy, which keeps college tuition affordable in Montana) would not have passed under these newly proposed requirements. This could have detrimental effects on our communities, making it WAY harder for Montanans to get the services and funding they need.

We’re hoping this bill dies in committee and fades into a deep, dark abyss so we never have to see it again, please and thank you.

Wind energy raking in the big bucks

We know climate change is a big concern for young Montanans, and that’s why we’re committing to sliding our fashionably-dressed foot in the door to fight for thoughtful legislation that prioritizes our environment.

This week, Senator Duane Ankney of Colstrip — lover of all things coal — introduced a bill that would increase taxes on wind energy generation. Basically, SB85 would put a big ol’ wrench in strides towards expanding wind energy in Montana. Sen. Ankney argued there should be “fairness of taxation.” Someone tell him that corporations and the ultra-wealthy do not pay fair taxes.

Everyone from construction contractors to clean energy developers to dang good citizens fighting for our climate spoke to oppose this bill. TL;DR: wind energy is on the cusp of becoming a big thing in Montana. Raising taxes would deter wind developers from bringing projects here, and we’re not having it.

Villain & Hero of the Week:

Dear friends, it has (unfortunately) not been difficult to identify a villain during this tumultuous week. There are so many devilish candidates, we could hardly decide. But don’t you worry, for one person sticks out above the rest.

I present to you, *announcer voice,* Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell. Skees is a House Majority Whip, and he tried to pull a fast one on us when he silenced Rep. Jim Keane of Butte during his testimony on icky HB102.

Rep. Keane was sharing his personal experience as someone who has suffered a gunshot wound when Skees told him his comments were irrelevant and shut him down. This sets a very dangerous precedent, so we can pretty much agree that Skees is a permanent contender for villain. Next time he decides to silence a fellow lawmaker, he’ll answer to us.

Not to be a broken record, but here at Forward Montana, we believe transparency in politics is so darn important. That’s why our hero of the week is Rep. Alice Buckley of Bozeman.

Despite busy times on the Hill, Rep. Buckley found time to take to the ‘gram and keep her followers updated on the ins, outs, and all the hot gossip at the Capitol. As a freshman legislator and young person, Rep. Buckley is setting an example of honesty and accountability in legislative work. What a breath of fresh air!

The cherry on top? Rep. Buckley and her roommate, the fabulous Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter of Billings, will be finishing each week off with an IG live update from their couch where they will answer all YOUR questions! You can tune in every Friday to get #informed with our hero of the week and resident communication queen, Alice Buckley.

Thanks for sticking with us to the end! Contact us here for answers to all your most pressing legislative questions. TTFN!


What the Helena – Week 1

*January 10, 2021*

Welcome to What the Helena! We’ll be hitting your inbox weekly with everything you need to know about Montana’s 67th Legislative Session and how it affects young Montanans. Was your New Year’s resolution to be a better activist? You’re in the right place. Thanks for joining us!

The legislative session kicked off this week amid a pandemic without any COVID-19 precautions in place. Yep, you read that right. We’re talking no social distancing, no mask mandate, and no clear plan in place for when legislators or staff are exposed to COVID-19. Which it turns out, they already have been.

With Republicans controlling the House, Senate, and our Governor’s office (for the first time in 16 years) and heated debate already in progress about how to hold a legislative session during a public health crisis, we know it’s going to be a long and arduous few months. Buckle up, friends.

Covid rules, more like NO-VID rules

This week, public health guidelines went out the window in favor of a panel of party leaders (mostly Republicans), who will “potentially” respond to COVID-19  issues. The panel met on Friday morning— 5 DAYS INTO THE SESSION — to begin hashing through the details. #betterlatethannever 

The current lack of COVID-19 protocols at the legislature has placed Montana businesses, jobs, and lives at grave and unnecessary risk. Needless to say, this is concerning AF.

On the bright side, the session is being held “hybrid,” meaning there is an option to participate virtually and for the first time ever Montanans can make their voices heard from the comfort of their own home! If you’re wondering what the Forward Montana Staff is up to for the next few months, we’ll be in our pajamas screaming from the virtual rooftops.

URGENTLY protecting the rights of queer and trans youth

Here at Forward Montana, we believe in a world where our bodies and identities aren’t up for debate. This seems like something we could all get behind, right? Wrong, apparently. House Republican John Fuller has already introduced two bills that could have deeply damaging effects on trans youth in Montana — and they’re getting introduced fast.

HB112 would bar trans, nonbinary, and two-spirit kids from playing on sports teams that align with their gender and HB113 would prohibit medical professionals from treating gender dysphoria in trans and gender-nonconforming minors. Both of these bills, if enacted, would have catastrophic effects on the well-being of queer and trans youth in our state. They are set for hearings this Wednesday, January 13th, at 8am.

Please call your representatives NOW and tell them you do NOT support either of these super slimy, harmful bills. If you don’t know who your representative is, you can find out here.

We also encourage you to submit public comment, either verbally during the hearing or in writing ahead of time. If you’d like help making public comment, contact Izzy at izzy@forwardmontana.org by 12pm on January 12th.

Concealed carry? Not on my campus

The session was barely underway last Wednesday when a terrifying bill, HB102, was heard in committee. This bill removes power from the Board of Regents, AKA the decision makers for the Montana University System, and allows concealed carry on our university campuses! (WTF?!) 

Supporters of this bill argue it will make campuses safer, while students, faculty, staff, and young people everywhere say more guns will increase the risk of suicide and gun violence.

This is not the first time the MT legislature has seen gun bills like this one introduced, but their fate could look very different this time around.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on HB102. It will likely move out of committee and go up for a vote on the house floor. Check out our action alert here – we’re counting on y’all to help spread the word that firearms do not belong on our campuses!

Action on MMIP

Are you still with us? Starting to feel stressed? Us too. But don’t worry, there are also some good bills.

SB4 extends the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, which was created last session to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). Here in Montana, Native Americans are four times more likely to go missing than non-Native people. It’s an understatement to say this task force is urgent and needed. Check out our friends at the Indigenous Organizer’s Collective to learn more.

Villain of the Week

Welcome to our favorite segment, where we reveal legislators who are out for their own dang self interest, not yours. This week, it’s democracy exterminator, Sen. Keith Regier of Kalispell.

As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Regier attempted to silence the public by stating that the committee would not allow us to testify over Zoom. Yep, Regier tried to limit your ability to participate in the democratic process. #gross

“For 130 years, people have been coming to this building to testify on bills. They rode their horse, their old Model T, but they came here physically to the Capitol. And I’ve decided not to accept Zoom testimony from witnesses outside of the building here,” he proclaimed. Smh, dude.

Someone tell Regier that this isn’t the dark ages. Annnnd it’s a global pandemic. Anyways, all of the chairs of the Senate committees decided to allow virtual testimony during the coronavirus pandemic, so nice try Regier, but democracy wins this time around.

Hero of the Week

Because we all need a hero and this week we’ve got one of the very best, it’s House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott of Helena, who swooped to the rescue during Friday’s COVID-19 Panel meeting. Abbott continuously pushed back on Chair Jason Ellsworth’s weak COVID-19 guidelines which “strongly encourage” legislators to wear a mask or stay home while they’re waiting for a COVID-19 test. You know, if they feel like it. Not cute, Rep. Ellsworth. (He did not wear a mask, ICYMI).

Abbott responded with patient but firm insistence on requirements, not suggestions. She weathered condescending accusations of “politicizing” COVID-19 with grace. And she joined us on this week’s edition of our podcast to talk about how the session is shaping up for her. *drops mic* (Our podcast can be found on SpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or Breaker!)

No matter how hard things get during this session, we’re glad to have determined and level-headed legislators like Rep. Kim Abbott fighting for the health of all Montanans. Thanks Kim!

WHEW. Congrats, you made it. That’s it for this week! Still have questions or are curious how you can get involved? Reach out to Abby at abby@forwardmontana.orgWe’re happy to help! Otherwise, we’ll catch you next Sunday!