What the Helena- image of Helena and capital building

“What the Helena” is back for another Montana Legislative Session!  As with past years the f**kery has begun which means… more of our high-energy, no-bullshit way to stay informed on the news that matters to young Montanans. We will be keeping up on the issues right here or if you like your news in your inbox subscribe to weekly email updates or maybe you like listening to your news, so listen here for our “What The Helena” podcast.

Calls to Action

Want to take action without reading a whole newsletter? We’ve got you covered! Here are four quick things you can do to make your voice heard:

  • Join us in the Capitol building on February 1 from 12-1PM to rally in support of Montana’s Constitution! Our Constitution is unique among states; it includes strong privacy protections, as well as guaranteeing the right to a clean, healthful environment. Despite this, Montana legislators have already proposed upwards of 50 amendments that aim to chip away at these rights and protections. Add your voice to the chorus encouraging them to leave our Constitution alone!
  • HB 170 passed through the house, repealing the state’s energy goals and any process to develop future goals. HB 170 is being heard on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm. Send the committee a message voicing your opposition at this link!
  • Stand with medical professionals, families, public employees, and most of all, trans Montanans, and send a message to your Senator and the Senate Judiciary Committee urging that they vote NO on SB 99.  Youth have a right to access appropriate – and often life saving – gender-affirming care.
  • Contact your Senator to let them know you support SJ 6, Sen. Susan Webber’s resolution to recognize the trauma inflicted on Indigenous children and families by the United States Government through the establishment and operation of Indian Boarding Schools. 
What the Helena Weekly Update

  • What the Helena 2023- Issue #4

    CALLS TO ACTION

    Join us in the Capitol building on February 1 from 12-1PM to rally in support of Montana’s Constitution! Our Constitution is unique among states; it includes strong privacy protections, as well as guaranteeing the right to a clean, healthful environment. Despite this, Montana legislators have already proposed upwards of 50 amendments that aim to chip away at these rights and protections. Add your voice to the chorus encouraging them to leave our Constitution alone!

    HB 170 passed through the house, repealing the state’s energy goals and any process to develop future goals. HB 170 is being heard on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm. Send the committee a message voicing your opposition at this link!

    Stand with medical professionals, families, public employees, and most of all, trans Montanans, and send a message to your Senator and the Senate Judiciary Committee urging that they vote NO on SB 99.  Youth have a right to access appropriate – and often life saving – gender-affirming care.

    Contact your Senator to let them know you support SJ 6, Sen. Susan Webber’s resolution to recognize the trauma inflicted on Indigenous children and families by the United States Government through the establishment and operation of Indian Boarding Schools. 

    LEGISLATIVE RESOURCE GUIDE

    If you’ve been reading this newsletter, listening to our podcast, or keeping up on our socials, you’ve likely seen A LOT of calls to action from us, all showing you different ways to keep up and make your voice heard during Montana’s 2023 legislative session (thank you!!). We wanted to get all that info gathered into one easy-to-find space, so we’re presenting you with our awesome Legislative Session Resource Guide! This guide not only walks you through ways to get involved, but also how to stay in the know (besides following us of course!), and how to find support during this rather rough session. Have thoughts or additions you want to see in the guide? Send us a DM or email!


    We’ll Never Stop Fighting

    On Friday, a hearing for SB 99 began at 8am and lasted until 1pm, filled with an overwhelming majority of local trans advocates opposing the bill, which attacks trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit youth’s right to gender-affirming care.  

    From those supporting this harmful bill, we heard a lot of misinformed and misleading testimony, with many proponents from out of state, including some notorious political detransitioners and  a representative of the Family Policy Alliance, a group that submits draft bills like SB 99 to legislators at a national level.

    But guess what? Montanans showed the f up to this hearing in support of their trans family members, patients, friends, students, and selves, outnumbering proponents nearly 4 to 1. 


    Notably, supporters of trans kids’ access to gender-affirming care included a TON of Montana healthcare organizations, as well as individual nurses, pediatricians, doctors, and mental health care experts. The strength of this medical solidarity and unity against government interference in minors’ private medical decisions also came with a subtle threat – if the state of Montana forces them to choose between providing life-saving care and keeping their practice, health care providers will leave the state.

    Most movingly, so many incredibly brave trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit youth and young adults showed up to tell their stories. Teenagers transitioning in Montana right now explained what it’s really like to be trans here, and how crucial the choice to transition has been to them living full lives. Trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit adults spoke out for the rights of children and families, including trans legislators SJ Howell and Zooey Zephyr, who affirmed, 

    “Trans people after transitioning live lives full of joy. My life is full of joy. I come into this building every day excited to work with you and for the people of Montana. That joy that I carry with me would not have been possible had I not transitioned.”

    One clear, powerful message stood out: the choice to seek gender-affirming care is a right and saves lives, and denying care to youth disrespects, disempowers, and endangers children.
    Stand with medical professionals, families, public employees, and most of all, trans Montanans, and send a message to your Senator and the Senate Judiciary Committee urging that they vote NO on SB 99.  And so many thanks to everyone who showed up in person and virtually to testify in support of trans people’s right to access appropriate medical care <3


    IS THIS MIC ON?

    On Friday, January 20th, over 300 attendees showed up for a rally in the Capitol building to demand action around climate change NOW!

    Disappointingly, the very next Monday, HB 170 passed through the House. This bill repeals the state’s energy goals and any process to develop future goals. By passing this bill, legislators are saying “good-bye” to any commitment the state had made toward transitioning to renewable energy. This flies in the face of democratic principles, considering how many people were just at the Capitol to demand action. Talk about being out of touch with the needs of your constituents, and the world in general! HB 170 is being heard in the House Energy and Telecommunications Committee on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm. Send the committee a message voicing your opposition at this link!


    Freedom for Whom?

    Last week saw the formal launch of a new group of legislators in Helena: The Montana Freedom Caucus held its inaugural meeting on January 19, with Rep. Rosendale as its guest speaker. Fourteen members of the Legislature have signed on as public members of the Freedom Caucus, with other members whose names have not been publicly released– a red flag in itself for a group who claims to be so confident in its beliefs. 

    The members of the Freedom Caucus see themselves as “the tip of the spear”  in the fight against a supposed radical left agenda to demolish families, abolish organized religion, and brainwash children. The Caucus Chair, Sen. Theresa Manzella, compared their fight against these apparent enemies to that of George Washington leading Confederate soldiers across the Delaware (yes, you read that correctly). We’ll be keeping a close eye on this group as the session continues to play out. 


    Money, Money, Money

    It’ll be a long while before anyone forgets the legal mess that was the 2021 Legislative session, which resulted in numerous lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of laws passed. You can keep tabs of the laws on trial using this tracker from the Montana Free Press. 

    Lawsuits don’t come cheap, though. The defense of unconstitutional election laws alone has cost taxpayers over a million dollars. In response to this, Gov. Gianforte has requested an extra 2.6 million dollars over the next two years for the Department of Justice. This money will cover the costs of litigation and the hiring of additional attorneys. After all, the workload of the DOJ has “increased significantly” since 2021, according to the explanation given for additional money. We’re of the (apparently unpopular) opinion that our tax dollars should go toward helping Montanans, not defending unconstitutional laws. We’ll let you know when it’s time to voice your thoughts on this line item before the legislature.


    Hero of the Week

    Sen. Susan Webber

    Sen. Susan Webber of Browning is sponsoring SJ 6, a resolution recognizing the trauma inflicted on Indigenous children and families by the United States Government through the establishment and operation of Indian Boarding Schools. These schools forcibly separated children from their families, communities, and cultures. The stated purpose of this cultural genocide was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” The resolution also encourages the federal government to designate a national day of remembrance for the many children who died while attending these schools. 

    In her opening statement, Sen. Webber talked about her own experience as a boarding school survivor; she attended the Cut Bank Boarding School on the Blackfeet reservation. She spoke of the abuse children suffered at these schools, and lifted up the stories of other survivors. In a state that has been home to 17 of these boarding schools, this resolution is part of a crucial conversation about how we can reckon with past and ongoing atrocities in Montana and beyond. You can watch the video of the hearing at this link.

    In a political environment that has continued to deny the rights of Indigenous people and refuse to reckon with historic wrongs, Sen. Webber’s commitment to truth, healing, and repair is nothing short of heroic. Contact your Senator to let them know you support SJ 6!

    Villain of the Week

    Rep. Bob Phalen

    On Tuesday, the House State Administration Committee heard HB 216. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings, would require public-sector employees who belong to a union to re-sign a union membership card every year affirming that they wish to remain in the union. The bill’s hearing generated quite the turnout from Montana union members and leaders who spoke in opposition; proponent testimony consisted only of out-of-state, anti-union think tanks and advocacy groups. (To learn more about the damages of “right-to-work” legislation like this, listen to our interview from the last legislative session with Derek Hitt of the Missoula Carpenters Union and Central Labor Council and James Burrows of the Montana AFL-CIO.) 

    The bottom line: this bill and others like it aim to take away the power of unions. When unions suffer, all workers suffer.

    While this bill alone is villainy enough, the real doozy took place during the committee’s questioning. Rep. Bob Phalen of Lindsay, the committee’s vice chair, took the opportunity to bully union leaders, implying that they had intimidated unionized employees out of showing up in support of the bill. He directed his question to John Forkan, a board member for the AFL-CIO. Forkan’s testimony in opposition to the bill included the assertion that, if this bill were so good for workers, they’d be testifying in support. Phalen’s “question”? 

    “I just wondered if you have the fear of God in them as to whether you would fire them if they did come here,” to which Forkan responded, with admirable restraint: “The unions don’t operate that way, sir.”

    You may remember that Rep. Phalen is also the sponsor of HB 234, the bill aiming to ban so-called “obscene” materials from schools, libraries, and museums. It seems like Rep. Phalen is of the mind that neither young people nor workers are capable of making their own decisions about anything: what to read, where to work, or which legislation to support. 


    We’ve made it through the first month of the legislative session! We know it’s been quite a wild ride already, and we just wanted to make space to acknowledge you, our lovely readers, for doing what you do. From staying informed, to phone banking, to submitting public comments and giving testimony– every action makes a difference.

    We’re grateful for you! As you continue to answer the calls to action from us and others, make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well. Take time to step away if you need it. 

    To take care of our communities, we have to take care of ourselves.

Queer & Trans Rights

Week 4- On Friday (1/27), a hearing for SB 99 began at 8am and lasted until 1pm, filled with an overwhelming majority of local trans advocates opposing the bill, which attacks trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit youth’s right to gender-affirming care.  

From those supporting this harmful bill, we heard a lot of misinformed and misleading testimony, with many proponents from out of state, including some notorious political detransitioners and  a representative of the Family Policy Alliance, a group that submits draft bills like SB 99 to legislators at a national level.But guess what? Montanans showed the f up to this hearing in support of their trans family members, patients, friends, students, and selves, outnumbering proponents nearly 4 to 1. 

One clear, powerful message stood out: the choice to seek gender-affirming care is a right and saves lives, and denying care to youth disrespects, disempowers, and endangers children. Stand with medical professionals, families, public employees, and most of all, trans Montanans, and send a message to your Senator and the Senate Judiciary Committee urging that they vote NO on SB 99.


Week 2– A hearing for SB 99, Sen. John Fuller’s bill to ban gender-affirming care for young Montanans, has not yet been scheduled. However, y’all have already shown us that you won’t tolerate these attacks on freedom and privacy– at our Thursday night phone bank, volunteers made over 300 calls and sent upwards of a THOUSAND texts urging Montanans to voice their opposition to this and other anti-trans legislation. This gives us all kinds of hope

Senate Bill 99 would harm current and future trans, non-binary and two-spirit youth by taking away their access to lifesaving, gender-affirming healthcare. You can voice your opposition at this link: bit.ly/takeactionsb99 and ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to OPPOSE SB 99!


Week 1– started off with the introduction of SB 99 by our first Villain of the Week- Senator John Fuller of Kalispell. Scroll down to read about the anti-trans bill that’s been introduced. Want to get involved? Sign-up and join the phone/text bank happening Jan. 12 from 6 p.m.-8p.m.

Housing

Week 3- HB 233 was met with overwhelming support during its hearing on Tuesday, with the only opponent testimony coming from the Montana Landlords Association (shocker!). Despite this, it was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday (1/20). 

While we’re bummed that HB 233 won’t be moving forward right now, tabling doesn’t always mean the end of the line for a bill— we’ll let you know if it rises from the dead. 


Week 2- On Tuesday, the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee heard SB 105, a bill which would prohibit cities and local governments from enacting rent control policies. Local rent control is already prohibited by state law. According to the Montana Code Annotated, local governments do not have  “any power that applies to or affects landlords… when that power is intended to license landlords or to regulate their activities with regard to tenants.” In normal-people words, that means that local governments already can’t impose rent control. 

So why are we talking about this redundant bill? Just as people have different needs, so do their communities, and local governments need access to different sets of tools so they can address real problems (like the ongoing housing crisis) according to their specific community’s needs. The legislature keeps taking these tools away. Back in 2021, the legislature passed HB 259, which prohibits inclusionary zoning– a tool that Whitefish and Bozeman had already been using to help address rising housing concerns in their communities. Inclusionary zoning policies require that new housing projects include a certain percentage of homes that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income folks, and could have been a great tool for Montana communities to help ensure their residents can access affordable, secure housing. 

While neither rent control nor inclusionary zoning are a one-size-fits-all solution to Montana’s housing woes, it’s a bummer to see our elected officials taking away tools rather than helping brainstorm creative solutions to address the housing crisis in our state. 

But wait! Speaking of solutions… HB 233, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Kortum of Bozeman, would require landlords and property managers to refund rental application fees to applicants who aren’t offered the rental. It would still allow landlords to recoup costs for things like background checks, but the balance of the application fee beyond those costs would have to be returned to the applicant within a reasonable period. It’s safe to say that every young person living in Montana has either spent hundreds of dollars on application fees only to still be stuck without a place to live, or knows someone who has. This bill could be a game changer for renters! We’re stoked to see it up for consideration, and applaud the bipartisan slate of representatives co-sponsoring this bill.

The hearing for HB 233 is on Tuesday, January 17th at 8AM. If you have a personal story of exorbitant rental application fees to share, please head to this link, where you can sign up to give virtual testimony OR send the House Judiciary Committee a written message in support. You have to sign up to give testimony by 5PM Monday, so run, don’t walk! 

Climate Justice

Week 4- On Friday (1/20) over 300 attendees showed up for a rally in the Capitol building to demand action around climate change NOW!

Disappointingly, the very next Monday, HB 170 passed through the House. This bill repeals the state’s energy goals and any process to develop future goals. By passing this bill, legislators are saying “good-bye” to any commitment the state had made toward transitioning to renewable energy. This flies in the face of democratic principles, considering how many people were just at the Capitol to demand action. Talk about being out of touch with the needs of your constituents, and the world in general! HB 170 is being heard in the House Energy and Telecommunications Committee on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm. Send the committee a message voicing your opposition at this link!

Democracy

MORE!

Villain of the Week

Rep. Bob Phalen

On Tuesday, the House State Administration Committee heard HB 216. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings, would require public-sector employees who belong to a union to re-sign a union membership card every year affirming that they wish to remain in the union. The bill’s hearing generated quite the turnout from Montana union members and leaders who spoke in opposition; proponent testimony consisted only of out-of-state, anti-union think tanks and advocacy groups. (To learn more about the damages of “right-to-work” legislation like this, listen to our interview from the last legislative session with Derek Hitt of the Missoula Carpenters Union and Central Labor Council and James Burrows of the Montana AFL-CIO.) 

The bottom line: this bill and others like it aim to take away the power of unions. When unions suffer, all workers suffer.

While this bill alone is villainy enough, the real doozy took place during the committee’s questioning. Rep. Bob Phalen of Lindsay, the committee’s vice chair, took the opportunity to bully union leaders, implying that they had intimidated unionized employees out of showing up in support of the bill. He directed his question to John Forkan, a board member for the AFL-CIO. Forkan’s testimony in opposition to the bill included the assertion that, if this bill were so good for workers, they’d be testifying in support. Phalen’s “question”? 

“I just wondered if you have the fear of God in them as to whether you would fire them if they did come here,” to which Forkan responded, with admirable restraint: “The unions don’t operate that way, sir.”

You may remember that Rep. Phalen is also the sponsor of HB 234, the bill aiming to ban so-called “obscene” materials from schools, libraries, and museums. It seems like Rep. Phalen is of the mind that neither young people nor workers are capable of making their own decisions about anything: what to read, where to work, or which legislation to support. 

Hero of the week

Sen. Susan Webber

Sen. Susan Webber of Browning is sponsoring SJ 6, a resolution recognizing the trauma inflicted on Indigenous children and families by the United States Government through the establishment and operation of Indian Boarding Schools. These schools forcibly separated children from their families, communities, and cultures. The stated purpose of this cultural genocide was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” The resolution also encourages the federal government to designate a national day of remembrance for the many children who died while attending these schools. 

In her opening statement, Sen. Webber talked about her own experience as a boarding school survivor; she attended the Cut Bank Boarding School on the Blackfeet reservation. She spoke of the abuse children suffered at these schools, and lifted up the stories of other survivors. In a state that has been home to 17 of these boarding schools, this resolution is part of a crucial conversation about how we can reckon with past and ongoing atrocities in Montana and beyond. You can watch the video of the hearing at this link.
In a political environment that has continued to deny the rights of Indigenous people and refuse to reckon with historic wrongs, Sen. Webber’s commitment to truth, healing, and repair is nothing short of heroic. Contact your Senator to let them know you support SJ 6!


Heroes of the Week 2023

Villains of the Week 2023