*April 18, 2021*
Events this week:
Sunday, April 18 (Today!): Time to channel your inner Bob Ross, because we’re hosting a statewide, collaborative art project exploring what economic justice means to young Montanans. Sign up to participate by the end of the day today!
Monday, April 19: Students from across Montana will be holding a protest at the Capitol building in Helena against HB112, the anti-trans sports ban. The protest starts at 11am. Bring your masks and signs!
The Montana witch trials
Hopefully you caught our midweek update on the constitutional crisis unfolding at the Capitol. ICYMI: Legislative Republicans are trying to intimidate the Montana judiciary, an independent branch of government. This is a dangerous attempt to disrupt our government’s checks and balances and undermine the Montana Constitution. It’s clear the Gianforte Administration sees the judiciary as their last barrier to unilateral, unchecked Republican control. Make sure you’re paying attention as this story develops.
Extreme Makeover: Amendment Addition
Last week in voting rights legislation, HB506 and HB651 went through some extra-scary makeovers.
A new amendment to HB506 would prevent election clerks from giving soon-to-be eligible young voters their ballots until the elector’s 18th birthday. That means you’d be SOL if you happen to turn 18 the week before Election Day and would like to vote by mail. That’s not a very nice birthday present.
HB651 concerns citizen-driven ballot initiatives. Two examples of citizen-driven initiatives are the 6-Mill Levy (which has kept university tuition costs down) and I-190 (which decriminalized recreational marijuana). Getting an initiative on the ballot is not an easy feat, requiring thousands of signatures and approval from the Secretary of State. HB651 makes it even harder by requiring a legislative committee to review the initiative and weigh in before signature collection begins.
We were hoping to see an amendment taking the legislature’s hands OUT of this process, however, things took a very wrong turn. HB651 was instead amended to give the Secretary of State more power to define the fee that signature gatherers must pay. We’ve gotta keep up the pressure and ask the Senate State Admin Committee to vote NO on HB651.
Just 98 pages of simplicity
A couple weeks ago we had a surprise awakening to another regressive tax bill. SB399, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, is referred to as the tax simplification bill, which makes us ROFL. At 98 pages long, it’s a g*ddamn novel (ok, a short novel).
SB399 completely overhauls Montana’s current income tax system and would lower the income tax rate on high earners, costing the state roughly $40 million in revenue annually. Most concerningly, it was introduced late in the session and is now being pushed through the legislature at record speed. Remember the last time you tried to make a multi-million dollar decision that quickly? Neither can we. Let’s muster our energy and stop this bill. Tell your representative to vote NO on SB399.
Luckily, we can rip a page from the book of tax horrors. SB159 — a different tax bill from Sen. Hertz benefitting only Montana’s wealthiest — died in committee!!
Former hero of the week continues acts of heroism
A while back, we celebrated our hero Rep. Kathy Kelker of Billings for introducing HB92, a bill that would financially compensate people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes.
We are THRILLED to report that HB92 sailed through both chambers with strong bipartisan support. Now, it just needs to get its pennies and dimes nailed down in a finance committee before it heads off to the Governor’s desk, but its chances are looking good. This is a very exciting step down the long, long road of reparations for people harmed by Montana’s criminal (in)justice system, and we couldn’t be happier.
What can we say except, “Thank You!”
As a child, did adults ever nag you to write thank you cards after your birthday or holidays? How about when bad bills died in the legislature? We’d like to play “adult” for a minute and ask you to express some appreciation to our legislators who have protected Montanans’ access to healthcare… What better way to spend your Sunday?
SB100, sponsored by Sen. Cary Smith of Billings, would make it harder to access public assistance programs like Medicaid or SNAP, disproportionately affecting low-income Montanans. It would put 22,000 eligible Montanans in jeopardy of losing vital services. SB100 was tabled in its committee, but could be revived at any time. Thank your representative as soon as you can for voting to table SB100, and urge them to stick with their NO votes!
HB337, sponsored by Rep. Caleb Hinkle of Belgrade, was a constitutional amendment to redefine personhood and give a fertilized egg the same rights as an adult Montanan. This would have banned all abortions in Montana and could have outlawed many forms of birth control. HB337 needed 100 votes in both the House and Senate, and failed with only 95! Express your gratitude to your legislators for voting against HB337! (Find out how they voted here.)
Who does your legislator really work for?
As the session approaches the finish line, legislators are exhausted and #overit — so we’re seeing bills being scheduled for votes at death-defying speeds. In the environmental realm, legislation shares a common theme: the GOP sucking up to corporations at Montanans’ expense.
First up, SB379, the billion dollar bailout bill, brought by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls (whose dad was a lobbyist for NorthWestern Energy, ahem.) SB379 hands a blank check to NorthWestern Energy (NWE) shareholders for investments in the outdated Colstrip power plant, while driving up energy bills for Montana households. One such shareholder? BlackRock, an investment management company with $8.67 trillion in assets. As if they need more money from Montanans. SB379 is hanging out in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. Send them a note ASAP to vote NO on this appalling bill.
The following bills are all on Gov. Gianforte’s desk:
HB273 – Ah, the anti-democracy bill from former villain of the week Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell. This bill would overturn a long-standing initiative known as I-80, which gives Montanans the right to vote on any proposed nuclear facilities in the state, and would essentially eliminate public input on nuclear energy. Yikes.
HB481 – This chilling anti-protest bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby, would increase penalties for trespassing and/or vandalizing energy infrastructure, like pipelines. Those found to have caused damage could be hit with a felony charge punishable by massive fines and up to 30 years in prison. It’s the fossil fuel industry’s response to #NoDAPL and is designed to intimidate climate advocates.
HB576 – This bill was initially written to eliminate the Montana Renewable Portfolio Standard, which was created to encourage renewable energy development across Montana. HB576 was amended (thanks to slimy suggestions from NWE’s head lobbyist) to also repeal the Community Renewable Energy Projects requirement — letting NWE off the hook for $2.5 million it owes to tribal and low income energy assistance programs.
Tell Gov. Gianforte it’s time to prioritize Montanans’ livelihoods over the wealth of corporations.
But … don’t give up hope! SB260, one of the most concerning climate bills, died on the House floor this week. It would have discouraged the state from regulating all kinds of industry, affecting environmental regulation, public safety, and welfare. For the win!
Villain & Hero of the Week
This week’s villain earned his shameful title by going out of his way to allow state-sanctioned cruelty. Rep. Dennis Lenz of Billings sponsored HB244, a bill that would reinstate the death penalty in Montana — at a time when public support for capital punishment is at an all-time low.
It’s been a while since we talked about HB244, so here’s a refresher: right now, the death penalty is technically legal in Montana, but the state cannot carry out executions. That’s because the drug being used didn’t meet the state’s own “ultra-fast acting” requirement. HB244 would strike that requirement, allowing lethal injection to be performed using “any substance in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death.” This means executions would resume with lower-quality, less regulated, and more painful drugs.
Let’s be clear: our villain has so little regard for the value of human life that he felt it appropriate to joke about corrections officers injecting people with antifreeze.
Many pharmaceutical companies are refusing to sell lethal injection drugs to states. We never thought we’d see the day that Big Pharma had a stronger moral compass than… well… anyone. In an exciting turn of events on Thursday, HB244 failed on the Senate floor by just two votes. If your senator voted NO, take a minute to thank them!
Nasty voting rights legislation can’t squeak past Sen. Janet Ellis of Helena. Last week she raised her voice on the Senate floor against HB406, which would have prevented anyone except a family member or postal worker from delivering your completed ballot to your county elections office if you’re unable to get there yourself. That means no help from your roommate, your partner, or even your fiance!
Sen. Ellis pointed out that even if a family member were able to deliver your ballot, there are other barriers in this bill — like requiring the ballot-deliverer to register with the county elections office and bring a written permission slip to submit your ballot. Talk about making a simple process extremely difficult for no f*cking reason.
Sen. Ellis’s comments highlighted the complete ridiculousness of this bill (quick refresher: a similar measure was ruled unconstitutional by the Montana courts just last year), and thankfully, helped send it packing. Yes, HB406 died on the Senate floor! We are absolutely elated — and you should be too!
During a session that makes us all want to run away from Capitol Hill and never look back, we admire Senator Ellis’s respectful but pointed arguments against restrictive voting rights legislation, both in committee and on the Senate floor. 406 cheers for Senator Ellis! Make sure to pass her a thank you for all her hard work.
Friends, we know it’s a long few months, but last week brought several significant victories. Let’s savor them when we can. Thanks for chugging along with us.