📣 Calls to Action 📣
⚖️ SB 566 would create a brand new top-two primary procedure for next year’s US Senate election (and only that election), where only the two largest vote-getters in the June primary election move on to the November general election. This would almost certainly block any third-party candidate from appearing on the general election ballot, chipping away at the rights of both voters and candidates to participate meaningfully in our elections. Tell your Representative and the House State Administration Committee to vote NO on this last-minute, undemocratic bill.
🏳️⚧️ HB 359 would ban “male or female impersonators” from any space where children might be present. HB 359 could have incredibly harmful impacts on the trans community, and relies on assumptions that trans and queer people are inherently predatory in order to censor and stigmatize an expansive, varied, culturally important art form. What a drag… Tell your Senator to vote NO on HB 359.
📚 HB 234 is a pro-censorship bill that would make book bans easier, and threaten teachers and school librarians with criminal penalties for doing their jobs. You can contact your Senator using this form to let them know that censorship through criminal penalties for teachers and librarians has no place in Montana.
🐶 HB 941 is an act to “establish a dog training and socialization program in the state prison or any other state-owned or contracted prison facility.” As Rep. Frazer mentioned, this is a “win-win-win” piece of legislation; in his closing, he said “We have a duty to try to do as much as we possibly can to help out our communities, which includes providing … [what] positive beneficial services we can at our correctional facilities.” HB 941, a lovely pup of tea, has passed to the Senate and will be heard on April 14 in the Senate Local Government Committee. Let your Senator and the Local Government Committee know that you dog-gone love HB 941!
🏫 SB 518 wouldstrip away students’ rights to privacy, education, and even medical care under the guise of securing “parental rights” in education. We believe that young people’s rights are more important than their parents’ desire to control them, that queer kids deserve safe environments to explore their identities, and that our schools are equipped to govern themselves. If you agree, ask the House Judiciary Committee and your Representative to vote NO on SB 518.
Much Ado About Nothing?
This week, the legislature passed a big deadline: Monday was the final day for Constitutional amendments, resolutions, and revenue bills to pass out of their first chamber. With this deadline came some surprises: it looks like, barring some unlikely but not impossible votes, almost every Constitutional amendment proposed this session might go down. This is huge news, especially since Constitutional changes were one of the biggest concerns for lots of folks heading into the session. It’s also reflective of what Montana voters want; according to a recent poll, just 15% of Montana voters support changing our Constitution.
Only one amendment, Sen. Ken Bogner’s proposal to provide for a mental health trust fund in the Montana Constitution, garnered more than enough bipartisan support in its first chamber to bolster its odds of making it across the finish line. Whether the proposal will gain support from voters in the 2024 election is anyone’s guess.
As a reminder, in order to make it out of the legislature and onto the ballot, Constitutional amendments have to break 100 votes across the House and Senate. Every amendment still moving was sponsored by a Republican, whose party holds 68 seats in the House and 34 in the Senate, for a total of 102. That means that, in order for these proposals to pass out of the legislature, Republicans would have to hold a pretty tight party line. That didn’t happen this week: with the exception of SB 563, Bogner’s mental health trust fund, every proposed amendment received at least 3 party-breaking “no” votes. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the proposed amendments and their votes:
HB 915would take away Montanans’ ability to vote in Supreme Court elections, instead giving the Governor power to appoint justices. Its final vote in the House this week was 59-39, meaning it faces a steep but not impossible road to get the support it would need to make it across the 100 vote threshold.
HB 517would chip away at the powers of the Board of Regents, the primary governing body for Montana’s universities. The Board of Regents exists to ensure that universities aren’t beholden to the political whims of the season, and this bill seems like a pretty clear response to their challenge of bills like HB 102 from the 2021 session that overstepped the legislature’s powers to regulate campus activity. This one passed the House with a 61-37 vote, meaning that to make it onto the ballot, it would need to get 39 votes in the Senate.
The Montana Constitution secures the right to bear arms, but specifies that it does not protect concealed carry. HB 551would change that, creating Constitutional protections for Montanans to carry concealed weapons.
In the midst of massive, youth-led demands for stricter gun laws, gun-loving Montana Representatives passed this measure on a 65-33 vote, making it the most likely to reach 100 votes across chambers. Still, for that to happen, Senate Republicans would have to vote as a unified block and pull over at least one Democratic Senator, so we’re hopeful this one will go down, too.
Remember, even if the legislature passes a Constitutional amendment, the people of Montana then have to approve that amendment before it becomes part of our Constitution.
Our villain from two weeks ago, Sen. Greg Hertz, is still up to no good! He’s decided thatnow is the time to experiment with how Montanans vote– in one specific election, in one specific year. Sen. Hertz has introduced SB 566, which would create a brand new top two primary procedure for next year’s US Senate election, where only the two largest vote-getters in the June primary election move on to the November general election.
This Republican-backed procedure is being introduced when, all too coincidentally, Montana’s only state-wide Democratic office holder is up for re-election! In another shocking coincidence, this primary system only applies to that person’s election! Not only that, but this bill is only in law for the election for 2024, and not any other Senate election in the future!
Supposedly, this is so the Legislature can “determine future applicability of the top two primary.” In practice, this would almost certainly block a Green Party, Libertarian, or Independent candidate from appearing on the general election ballot, chipping away at the rights of both voters and candidates to participate meaningfully in our elections.
Rather than allowing Montanans to have the freedom to vote for whichever qualified Senate candidate they want, Sen. Hertz wants to rig the system and limit our right to choose whoever we want on the ballot. This bill passed the Senate last Tuesday, and will likely be heard in committee soon. Tell your Representative to vote NO on this last-minute, undemocratic bill.
This week a bill sponsored by Sen. Shane Morigeau that would improve equal representation in Montana passed the Legislature! SB 77 would end prison gerrymandering in the state by counting incarcerated people towards the population of the community they last lived in when redistricting happens. This would be a big change to the system used prior to the 2020 redistricting, where prisoners were counted towards the population of where the prison is located. This has the effect of inflating the population of these locations with people who cannot participate in the political process.
This change is important not only because it ensures more accurate representation in our electoral landscape, but also because census counts impact the funding a community receives over the next ten years. We know that people living in under-resourced communities are more likely to be criminalized, making this funding all the more crucial when attempting to right some of the systemic wrongs perpetuated by the prison industrial complex. The state’s redistricting commission used the process laid out in SB 77 to draw our newest legislative maps following the 2020 Census, and we’re thrilled to see this bill ensure that it continues into the future!
SB 77 is waiting to be signed into law by the Governor, so until then you can let him know that you support this great bill!
Sailing Away on the Censor-Ship
HB 359, the bill that would ban “male or female impersonators” from any space where children might be present was heard in committee on Tuesday, where it was met with a flood of dissent from Montanans protecting freedom of expression and the rights of trans people to exist in public spaces. The bill’s sponsor, Braxton Mitchell, when being questioned, had to continuously rely on misreading his own bill in order to avoid acknowledging the bill’s overly broad (and therefore unenforceable) nature.
He also closed on his bill by suggesting that none of the opponents in the room had jobs. All ridiculousness aside, HB 359 could have incredibly harmful impacts on the trans community, and relies on assumptions that trans and queer people are inherently predatory in order to censor and stigmatize an expansive, varied, culturally important art form. What a drag… Tell your Senator to vote NO on HB 359.
Another *obscene* attempt to censor queer art, HB 234, would make book bans easier by threat of criminal penalties against teachers and school librarians who are acting “in accordance with policies approved by the governing body of the institution.” Basically, public employees could go to jail for literally doing their jobs – all because a national panic has been stirred up about one specific book that no elementary or middle school library in Montana even owns, and that can’t even be banned based on the Constitutional requirement for obscenity.
You can contact your Senator using this form to let them know that censorship through criminal penalties for teachers and librarians has no place in Montana.
Hero of the Week- Rep. Gregory Frazer
HD 78 – (R) Deer Lodge
Woof, what a session! Our hero of the week is a real diamond in the ruff: Representative Gregory Frazer of Deer Lodge for his paw-sitively wonderful HB 941, an act to “Establish a dog training and socialization program in the state prison or any other state-owned or contracted prison facility.”
We Shih-Tzu not, this bill generated so much barking; there was more debate on this bill than on any of the constitutional amendments that were voted on this week. Listening to this House session gave us big smiles as several folks pointed out the benefits for everyone involved: the folks in prison, the families whose dogs get the training, and the pups themselves of course! Also, this program is not new, even in Montana– the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings also has a successful Prison Paws program, which Rep. Jodee Etchart said during the floor session has “literally changed these womens’ lives.”
As Rep. Frazer mentioned, this is a “win-win-win” piece of legislation; in his closing, he said “We have a duty to try to do as much as we possibly can to help out our communities, which includes providing … [what] positive beneficial services we can at our correctional facilities.” We appreciate Rep. Frazer’s recognition that, surprise surprise, folks in prison are still people and are deserving of care and consideration.
We thank Rep. Frazer for presenting this bill, paws-ibly our favorite of the whole session! HB 941, a lovely pup of tea, has passed to the Senate and will be heard on April 14 in the Senate Local Government Committee. Let your Senator and the Local Government Committee know that you dog-gone love HB 941!
Tired of legislators barking up the wrong tree? Time to hound them – check out our Calls to Action at the top of the newsletter, spread the word, and send messages when you can!
Villain of the Week- Sen. Theresa Manzella
SD 44 – (R) Hamilton
Our villain this week is Senator Theresa Manzella of Hamilton, who has been girlbossing (derogatory) and gaslighting her way through her fifth legislative session, and whose so-called “parental rights” bills, SB 518 and SB 337, we find particularly villainous. Manzella seems to be very committed to stripping away students’ rights to privacy, education, and even medical care, and isn’t worried about breaking a rule or two to get what she wants.
At the beginning of the session, Sen. Manzella sponsored SB 337, a bill intended to grant parents an all-seeing eye into and vice-like grip over every educational activity, extracurricular, and physical and mental health care that their child participates in. SB 337 also specified that written consent from the parent would be required before a student could use a name other than their legal name or pronoun that does not “align with the child’s sex”, while also throwing in immunity for misgendering students that use different pronouns. Thankfully, this unhinged bill was voted down on the Senate floor at the beginning of March….
But Theresa didn’t stop there! Just 18 days later, she introduced SB 518, basically the same bill, designed to accomplish the exact same purposes as SB 337 – which is very clearly prohibited in the Rules of the Montana Legislature (p. 25).
For many students, school is the only place where they can get away from their overbearing, unsupportive, or even abusive parents. Sen. Manzella’s bill would create huge barriers for any child seeking someone safe to confide in at school, an environment where they can freely learn about topics their parents have sheltered them from, or a place to try out a new name or pronouns without being forced to come out to their parents and face the sadly, very common safety risks of coming out.
Senator Manzella, children are people too! We believe that young people’s rights are more important than their parents’ desire to control them, and we also think that the state has no place legislating familial trust issues.
We hope that SB 518, just like SB 337, dies, too, and you can send a message to the House Judiciary Committee letting them know how you feel about Manzella’s bill (and rule-breaking).