*April 25, 2021*
The final day of the legislative session — known as sine die — inches closer by the day, though lawmakers seems to be speeding up before they slow down.
One hateful bill down, two to go
Put on your party pants, people! This week, the Senate voted to indefinitely postpone HB427, which would have prevented transgender youth from accessing lifesaving healthcare. Over 700 of you sent messages in opposition to this bigoted bill and every one of those brought us a little closer to this win. Take a moment to celebrate and then join us in doubling down in our efforts to support trans youth.
We hate to be party poopers, but there’s some bad news, too. SB215, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which allows religion to be used as a defense for discrimination, was signed into law on Thursday despite over 1,300 messages sent to the legislature in opposition. We’ll keep you posted on what comes next.
And a couple bills are still being decided. HB112, the bill to ban transgender athletes from participation in school sports, has gone on a long and winding journey through the legislature. After a rollercoaster of amendments and close votes, it will now make its way to Governor Gianforte. Across the country, governors and legislatures are realizing that bills like this have no place in our schools. Let’s keep the pressure on Gov. Gianforte to follow suit. SB280, which requires trans people to present proof of surgery in court in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificate, is also through the legislature and in the Governor’s hands. Both of these bills attempt to make life harder for trans people in Montana.
We are so, so close to the finish line of this session. We just need you to keep your foot on the gas for a little bit longer. Tell Gianforte to slam the brakes on HB112 and SB280. This is our last chance to squash these bills before they become law.
Stop f*cking with ballot initiatives
Imagine you’re an impassioned citizen looking to make change in your community. You decide to try and get an issue that’s important to you on the ballot during the next election through a ballot initiative. You spend months collecting data, educating the public, and gathering thousands of signatures alongside your fellow organizers. It’s basically a full-time job.
If HB651 becomes law, good luck getting your initiative on the ballot. It would add extra steps to the already arduous citizen-driven ballot initiative process. HB651 would not only require a legislative committee to vote on every initiative and include the outcome of that vote on the initiative petition, but would now also require the MT Attorney General to put a warning at the top of that petition if the initiative will negatively impact “one or more businesses.” The problem is, the Attorney General could argue that virtually any initiative adversely affects one or more businesses, deterring potential signers from voicing their support. Tbh, we wish we could put a warning on the Attorney General anytime he impacts one or more of our lives.
Make sure to send your representative a message asking them to keep initiatives in the hands of Montana citizens (where they belong), NOT our politicians.
Settler colonialism: not a thing of the past
Settler colonialism is an ongoing process that uses violent means to remove and erase Indigenous peoples from their lands in order to make way for settlers. It underlies every aspect of our lives in Montana and the Capitol is no exception. SB214, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, is the latest iteration of anti-Indigenous policy being pushed in the legislature, and to understand it, we have to look all the way back to 1887.
That’s the year of the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act. It broke up tribal lands into individual parcels and sold the remaining lands to white settlers. This created a patchwork of ownership and two distinct land statuses within reservations: trust land and fee land. Allotment’s ultimate goal? To assimilate Native Americans into non-Native society — a form of genocide.
Since the allotment period ended in 1934, tribes have worked to re-consolidate their lands from fee to trust status via a time-consuming and expensive process. SB214 would disrupt that process by revising property tax exemptions for tribal nations, erecting barriers to land consolidation efforts and essentially punishing tribes for the federal government’s bureaucracy. SB214 disregards tribal nations’ political status as sovereign nations in a government-to-government relationship with the federal government.
The state legislature has no business attempting to tax sovereign nations. Get in touch with your senator and tell them to vote NO on this anti-Indigenous bill.
We’ve had it with NorthWestern Energy
Over the past few weeks, thousands of Montanans rose against SB379, a bill that would have handed NorthWestern Energy (NWE) a blank check for the continued operation and maintenance of the Colstrip power plant, continuing our state’s reliance on coal while driving up energy bills for 400,000 Montana households. It would have been bad for our bank accounts and bad for the planet. Your legislators noticed, and voted 11-1 to table SB379 in committee.
But NWE’s greed is relentless. The company managed to finagle an amendment into a totally unrelated bill, HB695. This amendment features similar language to SB379, in that it would allow the company to increase customers’ energy bill prices for their own profit and prevent the Public Service Commission (NWE’s regulating body) from keeping NWE’s expenses within a reasonable limit. The cherry on top? The amendment was introduced by lover-of-all-things-coal, Sen. Duane Ankney of, you guessed it, Colstrip.
You helped keep Montana’s energy monopoly and its investors — some of the biggest corporations in the world — in check, and you can do it again! Contact your senator now and ask for their NO vote on HB695.
Hert(z)ing Montana’s future
Turns out, it ain’t over until it’s over. SB159, a bad tax bill we thought was behind us, was resurrected last week. Sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson, SB159 drops the personal income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.75%, benefitting Montana’s wealthiest and resulting in state revenue losses of $30 million annually.
SB159’s partner in crime, SB399, also sponsored by the one-and-only Sen. Hertz, aims to completely overhaul Montana’s tax system while increasing taxes on 1 in 5 taxpayers — including middle-income earners. Together these bills could create a domino effect as state revenue loss topples into deep budget cuts for social services, like we saw in 2017. Given its serious consequences, debates on SB399 should have started months ago — not during the session’s 11th hour.
TL;DR; If you dream of a Montana with affordable housing, healthcare for all, or accessible higher education, these long-term revenue reductions would put a damper on that dream. Call the Capitol Switchboard TODAY at 406-444-4800 and tell your representative to vote NO on SB399 and SB159.
When the voting gets tough, we keep fighting
Voting, my friends, is not supposed to be difficult. If you decide you want to register and vote on Election day or if you don’t have the money for a valid voter ID — you still deserve to vote.
Republican legislators and our Governor claim to care about defending the Constitution — as they introduce arbitrary rules to strip us of our constitutional rights. Defending the Constitution, our a$$. On Monday, Governor Gianforte signed HB176, which ends same-day voter registration (a service the majority of Montanans want to keep), and SB169, which introduces stricter voter ID requirements. These bills will keep young, low-income, Native American, and rural folks from voting.
Friends, here is our new, restrictive reality: we can no longer register to vote on Election Day and student ID alone cannot be used to register and vote. For any upcoming elections, we’ll need to plan ahead to make sure we’re prepared to vote well in advance. But don’t think we’re letting this slide without a fight. The ink from Gov. Gianforte’s pen was barely dry when lawsuits were filed against these unconstitutional bills.
Burning down the house
It’s not fire season yet, but the Legislature is burning down housing equity and access around the state.
HB259, HB401, and HB402, three calamitous housing bills, were signed by Gov. Gianforte last week. While HB259 prohibits cities from adopting inclusionary zoning practices to create more affordable housing options, HB401 and HB402 give landlords (even) more power over their tenants. These bills will exacerbate Montana’s predatory rental environment and make it even harder for local governments to address housing issues — a big middle finger to Montanans who are facing evictions or behind on rent.
The thing is, while fires can be destructive, they can also pave the way for growth and resiliency. The legislature has now planted seeds for affordable housing efforts across the state to rage brighter and stronger than ever before. Help us fight these fires by engaging with policy efforts by the Montana Housing Coalition, and check out this list of state housing resources.
Villain & Hero of the Week
Although he’s been conveniently quiet lately, we couldn’t let the session end without crowning Rep. Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls as our villain. He campaigned on tax policy, public lands, and job creation, but his legislative record paints a different picture. Braxton introduced three bills this session, none of which had anything to do with jobs, taxes, or public lands. In fact, Mitchell’s most notable bill would have designated antifa as a terrorist organization. Cue eye roll emoji.
First of all, antifa is not an “organization.” It is a broad term to describe anyone who is against fascism. So what does that make Rep. Mitchell? An anti-anti-fascist is…? During the bill’s hearing, he demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the very issues he was attempting to legislate.
Rep. Mitchell has made more uninformed and harmful statements than we can realistically fit here, including flat-out ridiculous misinformation about trans people. Another example: He advocated to put guns on college campuses and made the erroneous argument that more guns will protect women from sexual assault. Evidence shows introducing guns to abusive situations does not make women safer; in fact, it does just the opposite.
Don’t get us wrong — we’re stoked to see young people elected to the legislature. However, the bills he’s advocated for and the policies he pushed show that Rep. Mitchell isn’t showing up for all Montanans. We’re thankful to the brilliant, politically engaged young people who are working to make Montana a place we can all thrive. If you’re one of those people and you live in House District 3 — let’s chat about running for office.
Criminal justice advocate. Defender of young people. First openly gay legislator in Montana. Our hero this week, Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula, has shown unfaltering commitment to Montanans since her first term as a legislator in 1996.
Few things bring us more joy than when Sen. Sands speaks her mind with honesty. During a hearing on SB158, which would have allowed legislators to carry guns inside the Capitol building, Sen. Sands pointed out that adding guns into an already heated decision-making environment could be disastrous.
Most recently, she has fiercely defended our government’s checks and balances amid a constitutional crisis brought about by the Gianforte Administration and legislative Republicans’ attack on the judiciary — a dangerous attempt to politicize an independent branch of government. In a joint statement with former Hero of the Week Rep. Kim Abbott of Helena, Sands stated: “Democrats will defend our constitution against this brazen assault on the bedrock American principle of checks and balances, and hold our colleagues accountable for this severe overreach.”
Thank you, Sen. Sands, for your commitment and dedication to the people of Montana. Your energy is contagious!
Our legislative team is getting ready to sign off! We’ll see you next week for one final issue.