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.