What the Helena 2023 Issue #11

Welcome to this week’s edition of What The Helena, where we’re tackling several housing bills, the state’s budget for the next two years, andmuch more!The $14.3 billion budget bill faced quite the all-day battle in the House this week, as amendment after amendment from the Democrats was voted down nearly along party lines. However, according to the House Appropriations Chair Llew Jones, R-Conrad: “[The budget] represents a good balance between the taxpayers’ pocketbook and the needs of critical services.” 

So, what were some of those rejected amendments? Adding more money to the state’s emergency rental assistance program; an effort to increase the amount of free K-12 school meals; and an attempt to restore cut funding for tribal colleges. The level of disconnect with actual problems that Montanans face is not a new concept here at WTH, but we sure wish they’d prove us wrong.  You can read more about this week’s budget debates in our Hero section as well as from the MT Free Press

???? Calls to Action ????

???? HB 361 will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. This bill would make it illegal for school employees or administrators to discipline students for choosing to disrespect another student’s chosen name or pronouns.  If you OPPOSE this pro-bullying  bill,let your Senator know and send them a message

⚕️ HB 303, which would allow medical providers to deny patients services on the basis of ethical, moral, or religious beliefs,will be heard in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee on Monday. Tell the Committee to vote NO on HB 303.

✎ SB 109 creates a gerrymandered map for the Public Service Commission that was drawn without public input, and garnered no proponents when it was heard in committee last Monday. Tell the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee to OPPOSE SB 109 in its current form.

⚖️ SB 222 would essentially make it an unlawful, discriminatory practice to require state employees to participate in trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you think it’s important for state employees to gain the tools to understand and address prejudice and discrimination, let your Representative know that you OPPOSE SB 222

???? SB 268 would do two things: first, it would define short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, as a residential (not commercial) use of property. Second, it would severely restrict local governments’ abilities to regulate short-term rentals in their cities.The impacts of these short-term rentals hit the hardest on a local level, and local governments need to be able to regulate these rentals in ways that make sense for their communities. Ask the House Judiciary Committee and your Representative to vote NO on SB 268.

Update: Senate Bill 99 has passed

While following the path of this bill, it became very clear that supporters are not actually concerned about minors’ health, their concern is with minors’ identities. They don’t believe that young people and their families should be able to choose gender-affirming care, and they don’t believe that teachers should support trans students’ social transition, because something about a bunch of trans kids freaks them out….

And maybe they should be concerned! Maybe, young people with the critical thinking skills to question binaries and social constructs and the courage to live authentically are a very real threat to their worldviews – and their power.  These cowards in the legislature are unsettled by what they see as a “fad” because they don’t want to admit that REAL change and transformation is occurring. 

To the young people who will be affected by this bill, we recognize & validate your identity and want to affirm that while your body has been politicized, it is still YOURS.  Gender variance has been around wayyy longer than this state and this country have existed, and no state can EVER take away your inherent autonomy.  Your life and your existence are more powerful than any construct (including this government). 

Carving Up the PSC

If we could pick two heroes per week, we would certainly have chosen Rep. Katie Sullivan of Missoula for standing up to Sen. Keith Regier’s attempt to create a partisan gerrymandered map for the Public Service Commission’s districts. Sen. Regier’s map divides 6 of Montana’s largest cities and 14 counties to create sprawling, non-compact districts (something that, interestingly enough, Republicans took issue with when it came to the new legislative map). Take, for instance, the first district in Sen. Regier’s map, which grabs half of Great Falls and then stretches across eastern Montana like a backwards C to scoop in part of Billings as well.

When this bill was heard in committee last Monday, Sen. Regier claimed that this actually improves representation because it gives each of these cities two commissioners to hold accountable. In reality, this map is nothing more than a confusing jigsaw puzzle that divides the vote of Montanans living in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. There’s no good reason why, when the Commission only has 5 seats for the whole state, cities should be split between districts. It’s also worth noting that Regier’s new map didn’t have a single proponent at the hearing.

Thankfully, Rep. Sullivan has proposed to amend SB 109 to draw some common sense districts that would better represent Montanans.

  • The first of Rep. Sullivan’s maps retains the historical practice which draws PSC districts around county lines, which allows for cities to remain intact.
  • Rep. Sullivan’s second map draws the districts’ around state House districts, as Sen. Regier’s map does, but only splits one city (Missoula) and three counties. 
  • The final of Rep. Sullivan’s proposals also uses House districts, but doesn’t split any cities apart.

Redrawing the Public Service Commission’s districts is important, especially because the Legislature has chosen not to do it since 2003. Our current map was drawn by a court because the previous districts didn’t pass the constitutional standard of one person, one vote due to wildly unequal populations. But, the Legislature ought to draw the PSC’s lines fairly, and not to enact a partisan power grab.  

The House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee will consider Rep. Sullivan’s amendments when it votes on SB 109, so before then tell the Committee to vote NO on SB 109 in its current form, and to support one of Rep. Sullivan’s amendments.

Freedom to Ignore History

On Monday, Senate Bill 222 was heard in the House State Administration Committee, a bill that would essentially make it an unlawful, discriminatory practice to require state employees to participate in trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The actual language of the bill is pretty strange, and as Dr. Angelina González-Aller of the Montana Human Rights Network powerfully stated in her testimony against the bill, this so-called “Montana Individual Freedom Act” uses factually incorrect characterizations of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion curriculum to grant people opposed to DEI trainings “the freedom to ignore history, the freedom to ignore the experiences of others, the freedom to repeat wrongs of the past, and the freedom to only serve a select subset of Montanans.”  

After testimony from one supporter and several opponents, including Meshayla Cox, the owner and founder of CoEquity Consulting, a fairly robust questioning of this very faulty bill took place. Committee members expressed concern for how trainings would be evaluated as to whether they “compel” people to believe or feel anything listed in the bill and whether law enforcement would still be required to learn how to appropriately respond to acts of white nationalism and neo-nazism. 

The committee also found that the bill’s sponsor, Senator Trebas, did not bring this bill forward due to any actual issues occurring in Montana or concerns voiced by his constituents, but took inspiration (and most of the language of this bill) from Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” (which has been temporarily blocked in court due to its unconstitutionality). Sen. Trebas also admitted that he has never actually participated in a DEI training, and that “we’re jumping on the bandwagon with this one, I guess.”

Thankfully, Meshayla Cox did a fantastic job of grounding the conversation in the reality of DEI trainings, asserting that in no way are they intended to compel people to feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress,” and that workplace DEI trainings bring employees together through greater understanding of each other, including a recognition of our differences. Offering people language and space to have important conversations about historical and current realities is in no way discriminatory, and maybe supporters of this bill would agree if they’d learned the definition of “discrimination” in one of these trainings that they’re so opposed to.

If you think it’s important for state employees to gain the tools to understand and address prejudice and discrimination, let your Representative know that you OPPOSE SB 222

Hero of the Week- Rep. Mary Caferro

This week, we’re celebrating Rep. Mary Caferro of Helena for her comments in opposition to a provision in House Bill 2 (basically, the state budget) that would expand Montana’s contract with CoreCivic, the nation’s largest for-profit prison operator with an absolutely heinous track record, and transfer 150 people who are now incarcerated in Montana to a CoreCivic prison in Arizona.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Rep. Caferro expressed her frustration at the Republican party’s willingness to “turn their backs on everyday Montanans,” aptly noting that, “rather than just invest in solving the problems facing Montana workers and their families, Republicans chose a much different priority, writing checks for nearly $8 million for 150 Montana inmates to a private for-profit prison in Arizona, decreasing their chances of having successful reentry by losing connection with their families.”

Unlike the legislators and lobbyists pushing for this expanded contract, Rep. Caferro demonstrated that she’s thinking not only about the imprudence of this budgetary allocation, but also about the wellbeing of incarcerated Montanans and the long-term harm that this prison transfer would cause. We appreciate legislators who are grounded in the actual lives of people in Montana, and that’s why Rep. Mary Caferro is our Hero of the Week

Villain of the Week- Senator Greg Hertz  

SB 268,sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, would do two things: first, it would define short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, as a residential (not commercial) use of property. Second, it would severely restrict local governments’ abilities to regulate short-term rentals in their cities.The impacts of these short-term rentals hit the hardest on a local level, and local governments need to be able to regulate these rentals in ways that make sense for their communities. SB 268 would take away that ability.

ICYMI, Montana is in a housing crisis. The people who live and work in our communities are being driven out by rising housing costs and crunched long-term rental supply– two things that studies have shown short-term rentals only worsen. This problem is especially prevalent in Montana’s resort and gateway communities like Whitefish and Big Sky, where ongoing efforts to regulate short-term rentals could be severely impeded by the passage of this bill. 

This session, we’ve been excited to support a number of measures intended to increase Montana’s housing supply; measures that would allow the development of ADUs, mixed-use neighborhoods, and multi-family housing in communities across Montana. If passed, SB 268 could allow those newly-legalized projects to house short-term visitors and line the pockets of wealthy investors, rather than become home to the many Montanans hoping to put down roots in our state.

If Senator Hertz is serious about addressing Montana’s housing crisis, this is a massive step in the wrong direction. Let your Representative know that you support local governments’ abilities to regulate short-term rentals, and ask them to vote NO on SB 268.

What the Helena 2023- Issue #9

Well, readers, we are officially halfway through this absolute whirlwind of a legislative session. The Capitol building is the quietest it’s been in months, and after a series of marathon days and rapid-fire bill debates, our legislators are taking some hard-earned time off over this transmittal break to rest, recuperate, and then do it all again.

So, WTH is transmittal? Great question! Transmittal is the midway point of the legislative session. It’s also the deadline for all general (non-budget-related) bills to be passed out of the chamber where they originated, or else they’re outta luck. That’s why, over the last week, both the House and the Senate frantically debated and voted on hundreds of bills, many of which could have gigantic impacts on the way life looks in Montana. 

Bills that passed out of one chamber this week will now move to the other chamber  (chambers = the House and the Senate), where they’ll be scheduled for another hearing prior to moving to the floor for a full vote. This means that the public will have another opportunity to testify, so if there was a bill you missed that you want to speak to, start working on that testimony now!

If bills pass in the second chamber, they’ll be sent to Governor Gianforte’s desk. If they’re signed there, we anticipate that many of them will end up in court.

You can still send web messages to your legislators about any bill, no matter where it is in the process. For now, though, rest up, thank yourself for being engaged in the first half of the session, and do what you need to do to come back in full force next week. We appreciate you!

Queer and Trans Rights

Once again, scads of legislators are proving to us that their personal agendas and misinformed fears of trans community are more important to them than the tens of thousands of LGBTQIA2S+ people living in Montana. These legislators are not being accountable to the people they were elected to serve, nor are they respecting our rights delineated in the state and federal Constitutions. 

We must hold each other close during this time, and prioritize the wellbeing of our communities while we face attacks at the state level.  We are incredibly grateful and honored to organize alongside so many LGBTQ+ Montanans and allies working to stay in control of the narrative, prove that these harmful bills are NOT for Montana, and most of all, show young people that there are so many folks out here who accept them and care about their future in this state. 

Here are the bills that we’ll be keeping an eye on after the transmittal break. Stay tuned for updates on how you can take action! 

SB 99, the misleadingly titled “Youth Health Protection Act,” would ban minors from receiving any sort of gender-affirming care – from puberty blockers & hormones to affirmation of a new name or pronouns at school. 

SB 458 would insert an incorrect and harmful definition of sex into the Montana legal code, preventing intersex, trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people from having accurate documents from birth to death, and effectively removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the list of protected classes. 

HB 361 would make it illegal to discipline students for deadnaming and misgendering their peers.

HB 359 would ban drag performances in any public space, with a definition of drag that could criminalize any trans person in public.

HB 303, the so-called “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” would allow any medical provider to withhold services based on ethical, moral, or religious beliefs. 

HB 234 would ban any materials considered to be “obscene” (read: queer, brown, black) from public schools, placing public school employees at risk of criminal penalties for sharing information.

We know that all of this can be taxing on the mental health of trans and queer folks who are witnessing the events and conversations unfolding right now, both in Montana and across the country. We encourage our cis readers to show some extra love to the people in your lives who are feeling the force of these bills. For our trans, nonbinary, and two spirit readers: step back when you need to, protect your peace, and hold yourself and those around you close. If you need support beyond what your community can provide, here are a few places to start: 

  • Trans Lifeline – (877) 565-8860 – 24/7 hotline to talk with a trans peer – divested from police.
  • LGBT National Hotline – (888) 843-4564 – trained LGBTQIA+ peer volunteers – will never report your calls to any outside organization or authority. 
  • TrevorLifeline – (866) 488-7386 – 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ+ folks to talk with a trained counselor
  • TrevorChat – thetrevorproject.org – 24/7 online instant messaging to talk to a counselor
  • TrevorText – text START to 678-678 – 24/7 text-based support line for LGBTQ+ folks

Affordable Housing and Tenants Rights

We’ve seen several recommendations from Governor Gianforte’s Housing Task Force appear in bills that have both passed and died during the first half of the legislative session. Most of these recommendations are backed by bipartisan support and center around state-level zoning reforms, like legalizing accessory dwelling units and multi-unit developments in Montana neighborhoods. While we’ve been happy to support a handful of  statewide reforms we think could really move the needle on our state’s housing crisis, there are a few, like a bill banning local governments from regulating Air BnBs, that we’re concerned about.

We’ve also seen a handful of bills that aim to adjust the scales between landlord and tenant power, for better or for worse. In a legislature where there are significantly more landlords than there are people indigenous to this land, these bills all get at a deeper question: Who gets to live in Montana, and who gets to decide? 

Here are the affordable housing and tenants rights bills we’re watching that are still making their way through the legislative process:

SB 268 would prevent local governments from restricting short-term rentals.

HB 282 would allow landlords to post a “deficiency notice” notifying a tenant of a lease violation; if not addressed & remedied within 3 days (amended from 24 hours), the landlord can terminate the lease. 

HB 785 requires landlords to give 60 days notice to tenants whose lease is being changed or terminated.

SB 245 would revise municipal zoning to allow multi-family and mixed-use developments in areas currently zoned for parking, office, and retail uses.

SB 323 would legalize duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes anywhere a single family home is allowed.

HB 546 would allocate funding from Montana’s Coal Trust toward loans for the development and preservation of affordable multi-family homes.

SB 382 would make a handful of changes to Montana’s zoning policy that would push local governments and developers toward creating denser, more walkable, more liveable neighborhoods where more Montanans can afford to live.

SB 320 would require landlords to refund unused portions of rental application fees to applicants who aren’t granted the rental.

Climate Justice

“The ice we skate is getting pretty thin…
My world’s on fire, how bout yours?”

Well friends, things in the climate justice arena are going about as well as you’d expect in the legislature – the bad bills are advancing and of the few good bills, many have been tabled. But it’s not all bad news – the good news is that many local governments and activists in places like 

Bozeman, Missoula, and Billings, are continuing to push for change, bringing awareness to their communities and legislators alike! Grassroots organizing and bottom-up approaches have the power to make changes that truly reflect what our communities want, so let’s keep learning, spreading the word, and pressuring our legislators!

Only two of the main bills we’ve been following have made it past committee, and unfortunately they’re not good:

HB 170 would repeal both the state’s energy policy and the mechanism to make those policies, with nothing to replace them. As a reminder, policies like these are what guide the making of new laws!

SB 228 would ban not only local governments, but the people who live in and understand our communities, from having an active say in the construction, placement, or impacts of petroleum or methane plants, pipelines, and other facilities 

You can find a whole bunch of others being followed by our friends at the Montana Environmental Information Center

Democracy & Judicial Independence

At least there’s one (relative) silver-lining from this tire fire of a session. Many of the bills that would harm Montana’s democracy have been tabled. Let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the wins that we’ve achieved to protect democratic government in this state, starting with reminders about some bills we’ve already talked about:

SB 200, HB 464, SB 302, and HB 595 all would have done away with nonpartisan elections in some way or another, whether it be all nonpartisan races or just judicial ones. Thankfully, these bills were either tabled in committee or failed their floor vote.

SB 372, which would have eliminated state Supreme Court elections entirely, was tabled in committee

SB 441, which would have revived the Ballot Interference Protection Act (which has already been found to be unconstitutional multiple times) had its committee hearing canceled, effectively killing the bill.

Tons of bad democracy bills have died this session, including many during transmittal (such as bills to make city elections partisan, unnecessarily involve the Attorney General in inspecting voting machines, and to require Montanans to register to vote with their party affiliation) that we just don’t have the space to cover in-depth! 

But it just wouldn’t be a session of the Montana Legislature without attempts to limit our right to participate in democracy. Going into the second half of the session, here are some anti-democracy bills to keep an eye out for:

HB 598 would prohibit the use of ranked-choice voting in Montana, a method which isn’t used anywhere in Montana but should still be an option for municipalities to implement if they choose.

HB 712 is an entirely pointless bill because it is already illegal for non-citizens to vote, and does nothing other than enter prejudiced language against immigrants into our state’s law.

HB 733 allows successful election candidates to contribute any leftover money from their campaign to a new election fund, creating a huge disadvantage for challengers and allowing for more money to enter our politics.

HB 774 and SB 420 would both change the dates of Montana’s elections. Currently, Montana has its elections for federal and state-wide offices on even years and local elections on odd years. These bills would place elections on even years or all city elections on even years respectively, which would make ballots longer and contribute to the problem of voters deciding not to vote in certain elections. 

SB 93 establishes a $3,700 barrier to entry for citizens who want to put a ballot initiative to the voters.

Hero of the Week- Rep. Zooey Zephyr

This week, we are thrilled to recognize Rep. Zooey Zephyr of Missoula for a bill she’s sponsoring that would help Montanans stay in the communities we love. HB 785 would make a small change to Montana’s Landlord-Tenant Act: it would require landlords to give 60 days notice (extended from the current 30 day requirement) when a lease is being changed– like a rent increase– or terminated. 

If you’ve had to look for new housing lately, you know that 30 days is often not enough time to find, apply for, secure, and gather the money to pay a deposit on a new apartment. This bill could be the difference between people being able to stay in our communities and being forced out or becoming unhoused. As the Representative for a district that’s around 50% renters and one of the few renters in the legislature, we applaud Rep. Zephyr’s commitment to pushing for policies that would make a real difference in the lives of the folks who sent her to Helena. 

“All we’re asking is that tenants have enough time to make decisions that are right for them and not be forced out of the communities that they want to put down roots in.” – Rep. Zooey Zephyr

Rep. Zephyr has already generated plenty of buzz this session for her history-making role in the legislature and her impassioned defense of Montana’s queer and trans communities. We cannot thank her enough for that extremely difficult work, and will continue to fight for a Montana that allows representatives of all identities to focus on their own excellent policy proposals rather than being forced to repeatedly defend their right to exist in this state. Rep. Zephyr, Montana is lucky to have you!

Villain of the Week- Sen. Carl Glimm 

Our villain for this week is Senator Carl Glimm, the sponsor of SB 458, another bill with wide-reaching and harmful effects on intersex, transgender, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people.  This 61-page bill has both unclear intentions and unclear impacts; at the committee hearing on Monday, even Glimm seemed confused about how to defend his own bill.

So, what would SB 458 do? Its stated purpose is to “define sex in Montana law” – but it would do a whole lot more than codify a scientifically incorrect definition of sex. The bulk of this bill inserts this new definition into sections of the law to:

  • Enforce the use of one’s “biological sex” in documents ranging from birth certificates to marriage licenses to burial records, forcing transgender people to disclose private information and deny the sex that they live as.  How any intersex or gender-diverse person is expected to navigate these processes is unclear. 
  • Redefine the meaning of “sex based discrimination” in all instances where it is illegal. At a federal level, sex based discrimination includes gender and sexual orientation based discrimination – this bill would remove gender and sexual orientation from the list of protected classes.

After hearing more than 40 people testify against this bill (and only 6 people in support), Sen. Pat Flowers aptly asked Glimm, “Given what we’ve heard about all the impacts this is going to have on human beings, why is this so important?…If this is a solution, what would be the problem?”

All Glimm could do in response was to stammer out the same Heritage Foundation talking point he’d been repeating all night… that sex and gender used to mean the same thing, and now they don’t. 

Glimm’s confusion about gender and sex seems more like a personal problem than something that should be settled at a state level.  It also seems like his prejudices have allowed him to be puppetted in service of a national anti-trans agenda. Not cool, Carl Glimm!

Take time to rest and recharge, because these issues are hard to follow and often personal, it’s so important to take care of yourself. We will be back next week ready to take on more of this wild ride. ????

What the Helena 2023- Issue #8

Calls to Action

????????‍⚖️ SB 302 would make the November election for judges partisan after a nonpartisan primary election. Contact your legislators and tell them to vote NO on SB 302.

???? SB 441 prohibits anyone but a family member from returning a voter’s ballot (with exceptions for election and postal workers), in a clear attempt to further disenfranchise Native and disabled voters who rely on their communities to help them cast a ballot. Send the Senate State Administration Committee a message asking them to vote NO on SB 441.

If you have had someone else turn in your ballot for you OR if you have turned in a ballot for someone else, we want to hear from you! Just respond to this email.

????️‍???? SB 458 defines sex in Montana law in a way that erases intersex people and makes it easier to discriminate against intersex, trans, nonbinary, and Two Spirit people. SB 458 is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, February 27. Send a message to the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety Committee letting them know that you OPPOSE SB 458 or sign up to give virtual testimony by 10PM tonight. Want to testify in person and need a ride or offer a ride? Sign up to carpool to the hearing on Monday using this form.

⚕️ HB 544 would severely limit Medicaid coverage of abortion and require people seeking abortions to provide incredibly personal information in order to prove that the procedure is “medically necessary.” Send a message to your Representative urging them to vote NO on this harmful, unlawful, and unconstitutional bill. 

What’s New

We are rapidly barreling toward the legislature’s transmittal deadline, and the bills are flying. Next week, we’ll hit the midway point of the session, and with it come some important dates: Friday, February 24, was the last day for the introduction of general bills, and all non-revenue-related bills that haven’t passed from one chamber to the other by Friday, March 3 will automatically die. This means that, after next week, we’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the session.

It also means that, in the next few days, committees will fly through hundreds of bill hearings,  before the transmittal deadline. Many of these hearings will be rushed, starting early in the morning and extending far past their scheduled times, with limited time for public comment.  Even though we’re frustrated by the inaccessibility built into this system, we want to make sure your voice is heard – read on to learn how you can get involved at this crucial time, and keep an eye on our social media for updates and calls to action!

Whatever happened to checks and balances?

The importance of an independent judiciary in our political system has been recognized since the beginning of the American political system. Alexander Hamilton noted, when arguing in favor of the ratification of the US Constitution, that an independent court system is necessary in ensuring that “all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution [are declared] void.” Montana’s own judicial system ensures this by providing a fair, independent, and nonpartisan check on the powers of the other branches of government.

Throughout this session, we have had “reason to fear that the pestilential breath of [partisanship] may poison the fountains of justice” in Montana. There has been an onslaught of bills that would, in some form or another, make our state’s court system partisan and stop judges from being independent arbiters of the law. Below is a summary (that’s as brief as it can be) of some of the bills that have tried to attack our nonpartisan judicial system. 

For starters, here are the bills lawmakers have had the good sense to defeat: 

HB 595, sponsored by Rep. Scot Kerns of Great Falls, would mandate that judge candidates undergo the same partisan nomination and election process as all other political candidates, as well as allow for parties to endorse certain candidates. This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday but was thankfully tabled!

SB 372, another tabled bill, was proposed by Sen. Daniel Emrich also of Great Falls. It would have stripped Montanans of their constitutional right to vote for their Supreme Court justices. Instead, this bill would have put forward a Constitutional amendment requiring justices to be chosen by the House of Representatives and confirmed by the Senate.

SB 311, by Sen. Barry Usher of Billings, is a bill so nice it failed twice. This bill would have made the Montana Supreme Court’s operations more difficult by reducing the number of justices from 7 to 5. With fewer justices to take on the Court’s caseload it is inevitable that a backlog of cases would pile up. This would mean that people awaiting the Court’s decision would have to wait even longer for their case to be resolved. This bill was narrowly defeated at its second reading on Wednesday, and defeated again when it was reconsidered on Friday.

HB 464, sponsored by Rep. Paul Fielder of Thompson Falls, would have required judicial candidates to state their party affiliation when they run for office. Otherwise, this law would act like they have something to hide from voters and list them as “undisclosed” on the ballot. This bill was also defeated on the House floor last Friday.

But there are still bills to be on the lookout for. SB 302 is another proposal by Sen. Daniel Emrich. This bill would make the November general election for judges partisan. However, this would take place only after a nonpartisan primary election, creating a confusing mess for candidates, election administrators, and voters alike. This bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Clearly there is a lot of work being done in the Legislature to destroy the independent judicial system that Montanans have relied upon for decades.  When Montana’s judges hear cases and write opinions, they do not put on red robes or blue robes, or put a D or R behind their name. A judge’s role in our system of government is to keep the other branches “within the limits assigned to their authority”. These bills encourage justices to abandon these principals, in favor of adhering to their chosen party’s platform.

Our state deserves judges who make their decisions with regard to the law and the Constitution, not partisan affiliation or political priorities, and we applaud the lawmakers who have stood up to stop this from happening. If you agree with this sentiment, tell your legislators to vote NO on SB 302, and thank them if they voted against the bills that have been defeated.

Third Time’s a Charm? 

We know zombies are all the rage right now, but this is getting out of hand. SB 441, sponsored by Senator Mark Noland of Bigfork, attempts to revive the Ballot Interference Protection Act– a measure that has been ruled unconstitutional twice.

The original Ballot Interference Protection Act of 2017, or BIPA, made it illegal for Montanans to collect and return more than six ballots. It also imposed strict restrictions and registration requirements on people helping collect ballots. This act was ruled unconstitutional in 2020 due to its clear disenfranchisement of Native voters living on Montana reservations, who often rely on organizations like Western Native Voice to help them return their ballots to far-away elections offices. 

In 2021, legislators tried again with HB 530, which we not-so-fondly call BIPA 2.0, which prohibited anyone from collecting ballots as part of their job. Again, this primarily affected organizations like Western Native Voice and tribal community organizations who collect ballots on reservations, and again, the law was ruled unconstitutional in District Court in July 2022 as part of a $1.2 million lawsuit (paid for by taxpayers). The case will now move to the Montana Supreme Court. From the judge’s ruling: 

“The one legislator that the Secretary called to testify at trial stated that he did not study impediments on Native American voters when ballot collection is restricted, did not read the opinions finding BIPA unconstitutional, made no effort to learn why BIPA was held unconstitutional, but nonetheless supported HB 530.”

Apparently, Senator Noland can’t take a hint. His bill, SB 441, goes even further than either previous iteration of BIPA: it prohibits anyone but a family member from returning a voter’s ballot (with exceptions for election and postal workers). This is a clear attempt to further disenfranchise Native and disabled voters who rely on their communities to help them cast a ballot, and we’re not having it. Send the committee and your Senator a message asking them to vote NO on this blatantly unconstitutional bill.

If you have had someone else turn in your ballot for you OR if you have turned in a ballot for someone else, we want to hear from you! Just respond to this email.

Don’t let them define our rights away!

Could these legislators stop trying to erase trans, non-binary, Two Spirit, and intersex people at a state level?? No? Okay… This time, they’re trying to define people out of legal existence with SB 458, which would “define sex in Montana law”. We’ll just paste their definition of “sex” here:

“Sex” means the organization of the body and gametes for reproduction in human beings and other organisms. In human beings, there are exactly two sexes, male and female, with two corresponding gametes. The sexes are determined by the biological indication of male or female, including sex chromosomes, gonads, and “ nonambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth, without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen, or subjective experience of gender.”

Yikes. There’s a lot we could say about how wrong this definition is, not least of all, its complete biological inaccuracy. If you’re fed up with a few people trying to negate the existence of and strip away legal protections against discrimination for entire populations, send a message to the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety Committee letting them know that you OPPOSE this genocidal bill.

Hero of the Week- Rep. Alice Buckley

We all know that affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues facing folks across Montana. So when Rep. Alice Buckley of Bozeman introduced HB 553, also known as the Housing for Montana Families Act, we knew she’d need to be our Hero of the Week! This bill would make several exciting changes to Montana’s zoning code, but the topline is that HB 553 would allow for accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, to be built in residential zoning districts throughout the state.

ADUs (which are smaller homes built on the same property as another residence) are often lower-cost options for people seeking affordable or multigenerational housing– and we know there are plenty of those folks in our communities right now! Despite this, their construction is either restricted or banned in much of Montana, feeding into exclusionary zoning policies that have been shown to increase racial and economic segregation. HB 553 would change that.

This legislative session, we’ve seen a handful of solutions proposed from legislators on both sides of the aisle to address our state’s housing crisis, and we’ve been excited to support a handful of great, bipartisan bills that could increase Montana’s supply of affordable, attainable housing.  HB 553 was tabled in committee immediately after its hearing on Thursday, but we know Rep. Buckley will keep putting in the work to make Montana a place where all people can thrive.

Villain of the Week- Rep. Jane Gillette  

Representative Jane Gillette is teaming up with our Week 2 Villain, DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton, to push the same illegal and unconstitutional restrictions through the legislature that Charlie is trying to mandate through the MT Department of Health & Human Services. 

Can you guess what Constitutional right this villainous duo wants to take away? 

That’s right, Rep. Gillette is putting forward a bill that would severely restrict the right to access abortion, while also violating our right to privacy. Heinous. Even worse, this bill, HB 544, would make the choice to exercise this right dependent on income, as it would aggressively restrict Medicaid coverage of abortion and increase the amount of red tape and highly invasive documentation required to prove that the abortion is “medically necessary.” 

At the committee hearing on February 22nd, we heard from human rights organizations, lawyers, and doctors in opposition to this bill (and no one in support), who noted that HB 544 would violate Montanan’s Constitutional right to procreative autonomy and harm the low-income folks who the state is under court order to provide medically necessary abortions to.  

Despite the complete lack of public support for HB 544, it was passed by the House Judiciary Committee. If you want to stop Jane’s villainy, send a message to your Representative urging them to vote NO on this harmful, unlawful, and unconstitutional bill.

What the Helena 2023- Issue #7

Calls to action

???? SB 315 would allow Montana schools to provide age and developmentally appropriate information on consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health, and interpersonal violence. Send a message to the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee voicing your support for SB 315!

????️SB 323 would allow for duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes to be built in any area zoned for single-family homes in cities with a population above 50,000. This is often the most affordable type of housing, and is currently banned in 70% of Montana’s most in-demand communities. Ask the Senate Local Government Committee to vote YES on SB 323.

????‍♀️HB 464 and SB 302would both politicize Montana’s judicial elections. HB 464 would allow currently-nonpartisan judicial candidates to list a party affiliation, and would list candidates who do not declare an affiliation as “undisclosed.” SB 302 would require judicial candidates to list a party– after a nonpartisan primary. Judges are nonpartisan for a reason, and they should stay that way. Ask the House Judiciary Committee to vote NO on HB 464, and ask the Senate State Administration Committee to reject SB 302.

????️SB 372proposes a Constitutional amendment that would do away with Supreme Court and District Court justice elections entirely. Instead, the Montana House of Representatives would nominate justices, and the Senate would confirm them. When a vacancy occurs at a time when the legislature isn’t in session– which is most of the time– the Governor would appoint the justices. Ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to uphold our Constitution and democracy, and vote NO on SB 372.

⚕️HB 432would codify Montana’s constitutionally protected right to access abortion care and clean up outdated, unenforceable code. Abortion is legal in Montana, and this vital reproductive healthcare should be accessible, straightforward, and not surrounded by confusing and contradictory policy. Ask the House Judiciary Committee to vote YES on HB 432.

Enthusiastic consent for comprehensive sex ed!

Senator Mary Ann Dunwell of Helena is sponsoring a bill that we are delighted to support, SB 315. The comprehensive personal health, sexual health, and safety education proposed by this bill gives Montana’s current sex ed policies a much needed update, and includes criteria for providing age and developmentally appropriate information on consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health, and interpersonal violence.

Currently, Montana schools are required to teach sex education, but state laws don’t provide guidance as to what should be taught, leaving students across the state with variable, inadequate, and often inaccurate information regarding their own bodies. According to a 2017 study on sex education in Montana high schools, approximately three-quarters of the participants reported that the sex education they received was “useless”.  

In 2021, the passage of Senate Bill 99 further restricted student’s access to sex education by requiring teachers to notify parents at least 48 hours in advance of lessons related to sexual education and prohibits school districts from receiving sex education instruction from any person or entity affiliated with providing abortion care. 

The current standard for sex education is a disservice to students in Montana, and SB 315 would give students the opportunity to gain important, age-appropriate skills and knowledge from 4th to 12th grade. Let’s give young people what they deserve – comprehensive and useful education on topics impacting their physical, relational, and emotional health. Send a message to the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee voicing your support for this bill!

Hold your loved ones close – and hold your legislators accountable

With LGBTQIA2S+ people under attack in the legislature, we’ve drawn a lot of strength from the people showing up to advocate for their communities and loved ones.  Thank you for submitting public comment, messaging your legislators, giving testimony and sharing our calls to action. It matters. Witnessing community support for trans rights affirms the choices of allies in the legislature, gets our opposition to these bills on the record, and reminds everyone that queer Montanans are here and we won’t back down. 

HB 359, the bill that would ban minors from attending drag shows, restrict drag performances to “sexually oriented businesses,” and criminalize any trans performer for their art, passed in committee last week, but has not been voted on in the House yet, which means that it’s time to urge your Representatives to vote NO on this unenforceable, stigmatizing, and generally terrible bill. 

Since our last update, several discriminatory bills have moved forward in the legislative process; HB 234 and HB 361 passed in the House, and we mentioned last week that SB 99 and HB 303 have also passed in their respective chambers (for a refresher on these bills, check out info linked to the bill number).  

For the legislators who have continued to disregard the concerns of the many folks who would be affected by these bills, it’s time to remind them that they were elected to represent the interests of their constituents, NOT to spread hate or further their personal agendas.

While these bills are waiting to be transmitted to the next chamber, we also have time tothank the folks who have supported the rights of all Montanans by voting against transphobic policies ????

Legalize Duplexes!

SB 323, sponsored by Senator Jeremy Trebas of Great Falls, would allow for duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes to be built in any area zoned for single-family homes in cities with a population above 50,000. 

Currently, more than 70% of residential areas in Montana’s highest-demand communities– like Missoula, Bozeman, Whitefish, etc– either penalize or outright ban the development of multi-family housing. This is absolutely a contributing factor to our state’s housing crisis: according to data from the 2020 Census, the median rent per unit for a 2-4 unit development is, on average, $200 less per month than the median rent for a single-family home. Even more baffling, these 2-4 unit rentals are also, on average, less expensive per unit than larger developments with 20-50 units. In short, duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes are some of the most affordable housing options available, and they’re currently banned in much of our state.

In the context of state vs. local control over all kinds of things, you’ve heard us (and others) say that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Right now, many local governments are literally only allowing one size of home to be built in vast stretches of our communities. We think it’s time to strike this outdated code and push our cities to meet the needs of our growing population. If you agree,ask the Senate Local Government Committee to vote YES on SB 323.

Plastic is (not) Fantastic

Ready for a bill with potential? Look no further than HB 413, sponsored by Ed Stafman of Bozeman. This bill seeks to repeal a bill from last session, which was about preventing local governments from banning “auxiliary containers” aka single use plastics. Some of the powers that were denied include regulating the use or sale of plastic containers, any attempt to prohibit or restrict them, or even imposing fees on them, any of which could be a useful tool for reducing our impacts on local landfills.

Proponents at the hearing lined up to point out the terrible effects of plastics on the world in general, and on Montana’s ecosystems in particular. To be clear, this bill is not forcing any local government to ban single use plastics. It would actually return control to local governments and their residents to make their own decisions to ensure a cleaner future.  

It’s clear that Montanans want the power this bill would give back to them. The Missoula City Council passed a resolution to support HB 413, and there are similar calls from residents in other towns, including from SustainaBillings in Billings and the city council in Bozeman!

Frustratingly, HB 413 was tabled in committee, but we know the conversation about plastic waste won’t end here. You can learn more about how to keep the conversation going by following the work of Families for a Livable Climate and @sustainabillings on Instagram!

The Judicial Dating Game

Welcome, welcome, lucky contestant to the Judicial Dating Game, where you get to meet some eligible bill-chelors making a splash in the Legislature! Your choice in today’s game will determine how Montanans elect their judges for the foreseeable future. Without further ado, meet bill-chelor number 1!

HB 464, introduced by Rep. Paul Fielder of Thompson Falls, would allow judge candidates to declare their party affiliation when they run for office. But this bill is a little spicier than just that – it also requires candidates who do not list a party affiliation to be listed as “undisclosed” on the ballot. If you want laws that sow seeds of doubt in the actions of judges who follow their ethical obligation not to be partisan, HB 464 might be the choice for you!

Bill–chelor number 2 is actually a package deal! Both of these politicizing proposals come courtesy of Sen. Daniel Emrich of Great Falls. The first is SB 302, a doozy that would require the November elections for judges to be partisan, but only after a nonpartisan primary. If you love administrative nightmares and surprise party announcements, then SB 302 could be just what you’re looking for!  

Up next is an amendment to Montana’s Constitution also proposed by Sen. Emrich, that would do away with Supreme Court judge elections entirely! Instead, SB 372 would have the House of Representatives nominate a judge and then have them confirmed by the Senate. When the legislature is not in session (which is most of the time), the Governor would appoint justices to vacant seats. Montana has never had a system like this; since statehood the Supreme Court judge has always been an elected position.

Our final bill-chelor is not actually a bill at all. It’s a little older than your previous options, at 88 years old. Born in 1935, bill-chelor number 3 is Montana’s current system of nonpartisan judicial elections! This system recognizes that judges should not decide cases based on partisan alignment, but on the facts and arguments presented to them. An independent judiciary is indispensable to providing robust checks and balances on the other branches of our state government, which is why SB 200, another bill that would have allowed judges to run as partisans, was strongly opposed by Montana’s judges and lawyers and was unanimously tabled in committee just last week.

We know which bill-chelor we’re choosing, and if you also support an independent judicial branch we know just what you can do.

Ask the House Judiciary Committee to vote NO on HB 464.
Ask the Senate State Administration Committee to reject SB 302.
Ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to uphold our Constitution, and vote NO on SB 372.

Hero of the Week- Rep. Laurie Bishop

This week’s hero– Rep. Laurie Bishop of Livingston–is the sponsor of HB 432, which would codify Montanans’ constitutional right to abortion care. In her opening on the bill, Rep. Bishop specified that this bill doesn’t grant Montanans any protections that are not already enshrined by our constitutional right to privacy; instead, it updates Montana law to reflect reality. It also repeals several abortion-related bills that are legally unenforceable, making Montana’s healthcare landscape much clearer to folks who may be confused by conflicting code when seeking this essential reproductive care. 

In the face of mischaracterizations from anti-abortion opponents (including the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Sue Vinton), who described her bill as “radical,” Rep. Bishop was level-headed and sure. She reiterated that HB 432 is nothing new, instead drawing a parallel between her bill and the numerous Republican-sponsored “clean-up” bills that have been breezing through the legislature this session. Abortion-related hearings are notoriously tense environments, and Rep. Bishop did an excellent job re-centering the conversation on what the bill would actually do. For her commitment to accessible reproductive care and protection of every Montanan’s constitutional rights, we are proud to call Rep. Bishop our Hero this week! Show your support for abortion access, and ask the House Judiciary Committee to vote YES on HB 432.

VILLAIN OF THE WEEK: Senator Jeremy Trebas

Last week, the Senate State Administration Committee heard SB 222, sponsored by Senator Jeremy Trebas of Great Falls. This one’s a real doozy – it would ban state institutions from requiring their employees to participate in any training that “compels an individual to believe” a whole list of things, including: 

  • “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s class, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;”
  • “an individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by the individual’s class;”
  • “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s class, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same class.”

We definitely recommend checking out the full text of the bill, linked above. In practice, SB 222 could ban all state institutions (including public schools) from requiring employees to attend training on bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as from facilitating any discussions about the very real impacts of white privilege and white supremacy on government and education. 

Let’s focus on education. When teachers participate in DEIJ trainings, they become more able to meet the needs of all of their students. Students of color, queer students, trans students, students with disabilities, students from low-income families– we all benefit when our state’s educators understand how these identities can impact the way students show up at school. 

We see this bill for what it is: an attempt to erase history, prioritize white people’s feelings over reality, and shut down vital critiques of existing systems and social structures. Reckoning with the ways in which these structures (particularly white supremacy) impact our lives, work and society is the first step toward creating a future where all people can thrive. That reckoning also threatens the status quo, which can feel like an attack to people (like Trebas) who are used to benefiting from that status quo. 

Despite not a single proponent testifying in support of the bill, SB 222 passed in the Senate this week; next, it will have another hearing in the House. This hearing isn’t scheduled yet, but start working on your testimony, and we’ll let you know when it’s time to show up!

What the Helena 2023 Issue #5


Week 5 of the session has us drowning in the good, the bad, and the ugly bills! Here are a few we’d love for y’all to take action on this week. If this feels overwhelming (it is!), just pick the one or two that matter most to you– no one can do everything, but everyone can do something! 

Let your representatives know that you trust school librarians to make sure children are receiving age-appropriate materials, and ask them to vote NO on HB 234.

Let the House Judiciary Committee know that you don’t care much for transphobic, regressive and overreaching policies, and send them a message urging them to vote NO on HB 361.

HB 303 passed out of committee on Thursday, and is now moving to the House floor. Send a message to your representatives asking them to defend the balance between patient and provider rights and vote NO on HB 303.

Contact your Senator and let them know that you support trans youth’s access to gender-affirming care and oppose the harmful and unconstitutional SB 99. 

Tell the House State Administration Committee that you want our democracy to be more, not less, accessible, and ask them to vote NO on HB 306!

The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee is considering a bill that would repeal all of Montana’s energy goals.Let them know you want them to vote NO on HB 170!

SB 141, which would replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, is being heard by the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee on February 8 at 3 PM. You can register to testify here or send a message to the committee members here!

Let your Representative know that you support efforts to increase housing affordability, and tell them to vote YES on HB 337!

Ask the House Human Services Committee to vote YES on HB 317, which would create a Montana Indian Child Welfare Act, helping keep indigenous families intact and increasing state protections for Native youth. 

Remember – you can find step-by-step instructions for sending messages and giving public comment in our resource guide.

Update Corner

Gender-affirming care

Despite overwhelming opposition from Montana families, teachers, medical professionals, and trans youth, SB 99passed out of committee on Monday. Contact your Senator and let them know that you support trans youth’s access to gender-affirming care and oppose this harmful and unconstitutional bill. 

“Obscenity” in schools

HB 234, the bill that takes collection development out of the hands of libraries, prohibiting minors from accessing “obscene” materials, also passed out of committee. Ugh. Importantly, it’s been amended to now only apply to public schools, leaving public libraries and museums out of this mess. Still, it limits young people’s ability to access information and, like HB 359 (read more below!) is backed by an underlying ideology that equates queerness with obscenity. Let your Representative know that you trust school librarians to make sure children are receiving age-appropriate materials, and ask them to vote NO on HB 234.

Then, make sure you’re subscribed to the What the Helena podcast! For this week’s episode, we sat down with former Imagine IF Library Director Martha Furman to hear her take on book bans, attacks on libraries, and more! Coming soon wherever you get your podcasts.


Remember HB 170, the bill (already passed through the House) to repeal the state’s current energy goals and development processes? Well, it had a hearing in the Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications committee on Tuesday this week, at which Forward Montana testified in opposition.

One of the proponents from the governor’s office argued that, because this part of the code was written 30 years ago, it leaves newer technologies out of the picture. However, there is no wording that says the legislature can only use the technologies listed as options to carefully plan with and for Montana’s environmental future; on the contrary, it actually encourages development of new technologies.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby, pointed out that many of these policies are (allegedly) already reflected in some environmental laws, but that’s actually the point – goal-oriented policies are meant to guide legislation, towards creating a lasting impact. The current policy does need improvement, but by no means should it just be scrapped, especially with no proposed alternatives to guide future planning and lawmaking. Sustainable energy development is still a priority for Montanans!

All in all, this stuff is complicated, like all things in government; but along with other attacks around energy and climate (to keep up with all of those, check out the work our friends over at the Montana Environmental Information Center are doing) this bill makes us nervous. The Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications Committee hasn’t voted on the bill yet, so let them know you want them to vote NO on HB 170!

Leave them kids alone

Another week, another anti-trans bill…

HB 361essentially allows students to deadname and misgender transgender students with no disciplinary repercussions. This bill “clarifies” the list of unlawful discriminatory practices in education to specifically exclude “calling another student by the student’s legal name” or referring “to another student by the student’s sex” – euphemistic language that would permit transphobic bullying and discrimination in schools.  By interfering with schools’ abilities to handle student conflicts in a way that is affirming, legislators are again ignoring  the mental wellbeing of trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit youth. 

Let the House Judiciary Committee know that you don’t care much for transphobic, regressive and overreaching policies, and send them a message urging them to vote NO on HB 361.

A hearing for HB 361 will be held on Wednesday, February 8th at 8am, and folks will be able to sign up for virtual comment starting on February 5th. If you’re able to testify in person, you don’t need to sign up! 

Of, by, and for which people?

HB 306, sponsored by Rep. Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls, would make a seemingly simple change to Montana’s laws. All it does is require a candidate for office in Montana to be registered to vote at the time of their election. How bad could that be, right?

But hang on. Do you remember what the legislature did in 2021? They passed SB 169, which explicitly made it more difficult to register to vote using your student ID, and HB 176, which took away Montana’s extremely popular Election Day voter registration. These laws were found unconstitutional last September in a court case that will now head to the Montana Supreme Court (shoutout to our sibling organization, Forward Montana Foundation, for being a plaintiff in that lawsuit!) because they created additional barriers for young people and those living on reservations to cast a ballot. If the legislature is making it more difficult for certain groups of people to register to vote, namely Native Americans and young Montanans, then it is clear this policy would make it more difficult for those people to run for office.

Requiring candidates to be registered to vote only adds to the long list of policies that make it harder for folks to engage in democracy. HB 306 is still being considered by the House State Administration committee. Let them know that you want our democracy to be more, not less, accessible and ask them to vote NO on HB 306!

Small Footprint, Big Deal

On Tuesday, the House Local Government Committee heard HB 337, a bill sponsored by Rep. Katie Zolnikov of Billings that would prohibit Montana cities from requiring lot sizes larger than 2,500 square feet. Currently, some of Montana’s most in-demand towns– like Missoula, Bozeman, and Kalispell– have minimum lot size requirements that force developers to build larger, more expensive single-family homes that are only attainable to wealthier folks. This bill would allow for more homes to be built within already-developed areas, meaning more walkable neighborhoods, decreased urban sprawl, and preservation of our ever-cherished wide open Montana spaces. 

The best part? This bill could make home ownership much more attainable to young Montanans– many of whom are increasingly feeling like we will never have the means to own a house in the place we call home– by allowing for lower-cost construction of smaller homes, resulting in a less sticker-shock-inducing price tag for the final product.

We know that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that’s going to solve our state’s housing crunch. This is just one of many policies that could help increase the availability of affordable housing in our communities, and we’re stoked to see it backed by so much bipartisan support. Let your Representative know that you support efforts to increase housing affordability, and tell them to vote YES on HB 337!

P.S. – Confused about how zoning, regulation, de-regulation, local control, and more play into housing policy? Relatable! Join us in Bozeman on March 11 for the Montana Youth Organizing Summit: No Place Like (A) Home, where we’ll talk about all these things and more. There’s no cost to attend, and limited lodging and travel assistance is available for folks who RSVP by February 10. 

Hero of the Week

Sen. Shane Morigeau

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – our current political environment still features people who do not believe in the basic rights of Indigenous people, and refuse to reckon with our past. Sen. Shane Morigeau of Missoula, though, is working to change this environment by sponsoring numerous great pieces of legislation. One such bill is SB 141, which would create Indigenous People’s Day as an official state holiday in Montana. This holiday would replace Columbus Day, a move which recognizes that our state should not commemorate the falsehood that one can “discover” land where millions of people already lived and thrived. SB 141 is being heard by the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee on February 8 at 3 PM. You can register to testify here or send a message to the committee members here!

While Sen. Morigeau has been a forceful advocate for Indigenous justice, his heroism doesn’t end there. He also sponsored SB 146, which would require employers to be transparent in displaying the salaries or wages they are offering to employees. 

As Sen. Morigeau pointed out in SB 146’s committee hearing on January 17, employers being able to hide how much they pay contributes to unequal pay across gender and racial groups. When pay transparency laws are passed, these discrepancies tend to go down. Unfortunately, SB 146 was tabled in committee on Wednesday, but we’re hopeful that the conversation about wage transparency won’t end there. We appreciate Sen. Morigeau’s commitment to a better future for all Montanans!

Villain of the Week

Rep. Amy Regier

Last Friday afternoon, a committee hearing for HB 303 was scheduled for Monday morning. The deadline to submit written comments or sign up for virtual testimony on any bill is 5PM on the legislative day (read: weekday) before the hearing. That means that the public had just two and half hours to voice their opinions for the public record.

Very shady…but a very fitting way to introduce this underhanded bill, which would allow any medical provider to deny care to any patient on the grounds of the provider’s “ethical, moral, or religious beliefs.” To Rep. Amy Regier of Kalispell, the sponsor of this so-called “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” and our Villain this week, “ethics” and “diversity” translate to blanket protections for healthcare discrimination. 

This bill might sound familiar, and that’s because it is! On a nationwide level, a number of states have adopted suspiciously similar laws, and administrations have been flip-flopping between protecting patients’ rights to access care and allowing health care workers to discriminate on the basis of their beliefs since 2008. In 2019, the Trump administration announced a ‘conscience rule’ for the Department of Health and Human Services, allowing health care workers to cite moral or religious reasons to not provide certain medical procedures, such as abortion, gender-affirming care, and assisted suicide. 

However, this rule was held unlawful by three federal district courts and is now being partially rescinded in a way that will hopefully protect the rights of patients and communities to receive access to the care that they need. 

Which brings up a good point several opponents of the bill noted at the hearing last Monday – there are already processes in place that allow providers to object to services based on moral and religious grounds.  However, the way that HB 303 is written has been compared to a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for employees to discriminate against patients, due to its broadness and lack of patient protections. 

HB 303 passed out of committee on Thursday, and is now moving to the House floor. Send a message to your Representative asking them to defend the balance between patient and provider rights and vote NO on HB 303.

Another week of legislative following in the books! As you continue to answer the calls to action from us and others ,make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well. You cannot pour from an empty cup, take time to step away if you need it. We will be back next week with more of WTH is happening this legislative session. 

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!