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.