Notes from the Field / Voicing Our Values / What The Helena 2019

What the Helena: Week 8

March 2, 2019

Halfway, people.

That’s right — we’re halfway through the 2019 legislative session. Next week is transmittal, which means all the legislators will go on a short spring break (Panama City Beach, anyone?). But more importantly, it means that bills have to advance through their original body (either the House or the Senate) by Saturday, or they’re pretty much DOA. This doesn’t apply to revenue bills ike the budget, infrastructure, or Medicaid expansion, which get more time because they’re hella complicated.

That means there are gonna be a lot of updates and probably a lot of RIP’s this week — but it also means we’ll have a more specific slate of bills to really focus our energies on. And legislators will be heading home for transmittal/spring break, so it’s a great opportunity to catch up with your Representative or Senator in your hometown. Let’s bombard them with calls and reminders of Montana values! March is gonna be a party.

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March Calendar

March 5 — Billings Legislative Forum

March 6 — Park County Legislative Forum

March 11 — RESCHEDULED International Women’s Day Lobby Day

March 16 — Don’t Mess with Medicaid Rally

March 25-26 — Indigenous Movements Interchange

March 27 — Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Day of Action

Pour One Out

A few REALLY GOOD BILLS were killed this week. First of all, HB 465, the bill to add gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation to the Montana Human Rights Act, which would prohibit LGBTQ+ people from being discriminated against in the workplace and housing markets, was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee. I’m pretty damn salty about this one, but FMT and our partners will obviously continue working tirelessly to ensure that our LGBTQ+ neighbors are protected by Montana law and free to live and work without discrimination. If these issues are important to you, you should volunteer with or donate to TransVisible, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Two Spirit Society or Montana Gender Alliance.

Bills that would have let 16-year-old Montanans pre-register to vote (HB 508) and another that would have allowed 16 year olds to serve as Election Judges (HB 510) failed this week. HB 508 was tabled and HB 510 died on the House Floor. We know that pre-registration and allowing young people to serve as election judges have only positive effects for our democracy. It was especially hard to watch HB510 fail after passing second reading because a few legislators changed their votes.

Yes, we have receipts. Reps. Fred Anderson, Ross Fitzgerald, Julie Dooling, Mike Hopkins, Llew Jones and Ray Shaw all flipped on the bill between Wednesday and Thursday. Why? You’d better believe we’ll be working to find out. If any of these Representatives serve you, call them and ask: “Wtf?” — in, you know, a professional and respectful way. We’ve got these legislators’ contact info and a script for how to talk to them in our accountability alert right here.

Villain of the Week

The Senate Judiciary Committee also tabled a bill that would’ve provided state funding for a new database of missing indigenous people in Montana. Unfortunately, some legislators didn’t think the state was the body that should be spending money on this. Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls wins our prize this week for this incredible quote: “I don’t see any reason why tribes can’t already be doing this. They receive gobs of money from the federal government.”

Ahh, yes, the classic argument that tribal governments receive and subsequently misuse piles of taxpayer dollars. Not only is it false, it’s deeply racist. Indigenous people are Montana citizens and descended from those who first called Montana home, and to say that our state government holds no responsibility over the staggering rates of disappearance and murder in indigenous communities is absurd.

Medicaid Expansion

Reps. Mary Caferro and Ed Buttrey were on the Montana Free Press podcast this week talking about their opposing bills for Medicaid expansion. Caferro’s bill would continue the HELP Act as is — you know, as the wildly successful program that insured 100,000 Montanans and brought in thousands of new healthcare jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to the state? Ringing any bells?

Buttrey’s bill, on the other hand, would take health insurance away from Montanans by implementing strict work and reporting requirements. A recent study showed Buttrey’s bill would kick between up to 43,000 Montana Medicaid participants off their insurance.

Buttrey says the bill is “telling the story” of Medicaid expansion, which to him includes the fact that there are Montanans who had other insurance before and “took advantage of the HELP Act.” Ok, but what if your other insurance was prohibitively expensive or didn’t cover all your necessary medical care?

The hearing for Caferro’s bill, HB 425, is on March 16. We’re co-sponsoring a rally at the Capitol in support of continuing Medicaid expansion without kicking hard working Montanans off their insurance. Are you in, or are you in?

That’s it for WTH, Spring Break Edition. Go get to work!


Margaret Grayson is Forward Montana’s Legislative Communications Fellow. A recent graduate of University of Montana, Margaret spent three years with the Montana Kaimin as a reporter and editor and interned at the Missoula Independent (RIP). Now she writes jokes for the internet and works to educate young folks about the legislative session.