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!