*May 2, 2021*

Friends, it has been a long session. We feel like we’ve aged ten years in the last four months. We have seen good bills die, bad bills pass, and legislators representing special interests — NOT their constituents. Through it all, one thing has been constant: Montanans like you have shown the f**k up to fight the good fight.

The last week of the session was especially concerning. Bills were hacked apart and voted on at lightning speed, and it’s been nearly impossible to keep up. What we do know is that Montanans deserve better than what we saw this week — rushed government with little (if any) opportunity for public participation.

While the session has come to a close, many ugly bills have been dumped on Gov. Gianforte’s desk for him to either sign or veto. We have one last chance to make our voices heard loud and clear.

Baby one more time

Alright friends, we hope you’ll join us one more time in blowing up Gov. Gianforte’s phone in support of transgender, nonbinary, and Two-Spirit Montanans.

The fate of HB112, the anti-trans sports ban, is now in the Governor’s slippery little hands. We need to make it very clear that we will not tolerate this blatant attack on trans peoples’ right to live their lives in Montana. Give ol’ GG a call at 406-444-3111 or shoot him a message and tell him to veto HB112.

How the actual Helena are we supposed to vote now?!?

Tightening voter ID laws and ending same day voter registration apparently wasn’t enough for some power-hungry Republicans. During a single day last week, three anti-democratic bills passed the legislature along party lines and were sent to Gov. Gianforte’s desk. Ya know what they say: “when it rains, it pours.”

ICYMI, HB651 will insert the legislature and Attorney General into what is supposed to be a citizen-led ballot initiative process. Legalizing marijuana and securing long-term funding for MUS are two great examples of successful ballot initiatives. HB651 authorizes the legislature and the AG to display their opinions at the very top of initiative petitions, which will likely discourage folks from signing on. This undermines the entire purpose of the *citizen-led* initiative process and will make it WAY more difficult to get issues we care about onto the ballot.

A second bill, HB530, will prohibit ballot collection. Each election, organizations like Forward Montana and our partners collect and safely deliver hundreds of ballots for voters across the state. Ballot collect is a lifeline to democracy for SO MANY PEOPLE who can’t make it to their county election offices and HB530 reinstates a policy known as the Ballot Interference Prevention Act (BIPA) that was previously ruled unconstitutional. Election officials and the general public rallied hard against a previous version of the same bill, HB406, which died several weeks ago. The worst of HB406 was amended onto HB530 and passed through the legislature during the final week without any public input. What. The. Actual. Helena. We feel like we’re playing some kind of bad-bill whack-a-mole.

Lastly, HB506 takes a very well-functioning system and changes it for no apparent reason. Currently, county election offices preemptively issue ballots to new voters turning 18 shortly before Election Day. This works great — but some lawmakers just had to mess with it. HB506 will prevent young voters from getting their ballot until the day they turn 18, even if that’s Election Day. So if you’re a first-time voter who needs to vote by mail for whatever reason (say you’re travelling or away at college) you’re SOL — unless you have a time-traveling superpower we don’t know about.

Tell Gov. Gianforte to veto HB651, HB506 and HB530 — these bills infringe on our constitutional rights and create barriers to making our voices heard.

A(nother) sneaky switcheroo

new provision to HB695 would have allowed NorthWestern Energy (NWE) to increase customers’ utility bills for NWE’s own profit while preventing the Public Service Commission (NWE’s regulating body) from keeping the energy monopoly’s expenses within a reasonable limit. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

Two weeks ago, we defeated SB379, NorthWestern’s relentless attempt to take advantage of consumers and pocket more money for their own corporate benefit. But, before we could even breathe a sigh of relief, they managed to wrangle an amendment mirroring SB379 into a completely unrelated bill, HB695. We’ve had enough of corporate bailouts this session, and thankfully, so have your legislators. HB695 didn’t make it to the senate floor before the session ended, so it is dead in the water. If you contacted your legislator to stop these bills, give yourself a pat on the back!

Oh, the hypocrisy!

The hypocrite anthem rang loudly in our ears as GG signed multiple anti-reproductive healthcare bills into law during the final week of the Legislative Session.

The assertion of “pro-life” truly baffles us when the legislature has shown flagrant disregard for so many lives. Trans and queer Montanans? Nah. Indigenous communities? Nah. Does life really matter to you Gov. Gianforte, or only when it’s white, cisgender, or an unborn fetus? 

HB136HB140, and HB171 ban abortion procedures at 20 weeks, seek to shame abortion patients, and restrict medical practitioners’ ability to provide medication abortions. All of which will put doctors and families in difficult situations, disproportionately impacting low-income and rural folks in Montana.

Legal challenges are in the works with the passage of these bills, and we’ll keep working with other organizations to advocate for reproductive healthcare access around the state. 

Villain & Hero of the Week

My dear friends, the final week’s villain is perhaps the most deserving villain we know. Remember when our Governor, Greg Gianfortebody-slammed a reporter, ending with assault charges? Yeah, so do we. And he’s been body-slamming Montanans in all sorts of ways ever since. He touts toxic masculinity wherever he goes and is intent on limiting voting access, restricting women’s healthcare, attacking our judiciary, consolidating his own power, lowering taxes for the wealthy (like himself, shocker!), and just generally thinking he’s above the law.

His cronie, Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, has been playing marionettist and pulling strings in the legislature to an unprecedented extent this session. She was especially vocal in favor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which legalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the name of “religious exemption.”

Just last week, Gov. Gianforte refused to sign HB92, the bipartisan bill that would establish a compensation program for wrongfully convicted Montanans. He returned the bill to the legislature with several amendments — the most notable being that it is now set to expire in 2023, just as the fledgling program would be getting its sea legs. This is a huge middle finger to legal advocates, formerly incarcerated people, and legislators who have been crafting this bill together for years, as well as to the legislature as a whole, which voted in overwhelming support of HB92. Greg, do you just love to see people suffer?

While Gov. Gianforte likes to pretend he’s a salt of the earth ol’ Montanan, let’s not forget: he is, in fact, a rich tech guy from New Jersey who was the wealthiest member of Congress, with a net worth of $135.7 million. Instead of promoting policy to better our state, he’s treating Montana like a new toy to throw around until it’s ruined and then toss aside.

Greg, you are not the future of our Montana. In our Montana, everyone’s right to vote is protected, every body’s right to healthcare is guaranteed, and every person’s identity is welcome. After we send him all the calls, let’s gear up to throw GG back to NJ in 2024. He does not and will never represent us.

Our final hero of the week, dear readers, is you! Through thick and thin, you stuck with us. You sent more emails to the Capitol than we can even count, raising your voices on issues ranging from the anti-trans sports ban to tax breaks for the wealthy. You sent 536 messages to legislators through our action forms alone! Your calls filled voicemail boxes and kept phones buzzing.

Some of the terrible bills you helped kill? A ban on lifesaving healthcare for transgender youth. A bill to reinstate the death penalty in Montana. A death blow to Montana’s solar industry. An attempt to increase barriers to Medicaid and SNAP. Thanks to you, those bills were left in the dust. If that isn’t heroism, we DK what is.

Here’s the thing: a lot of the legislators pushing hateful rhetoric are scared of young people power. They are genuinely threatened when young people start rallying together and speaking their minds. That’s why we have to keep doing it.

There are so many ways to make change, and transforming the system from within is just one of them. But if you want to run for office, give us a ring. We’d be behind you all the way. 

This is our last regular issue of What the Helena. Next week, we’ll send out a summary of the major changes that this session has brought to our beloved state.

If you have enjoyed the weekly updates this session and want to help us continue providing content like What the Helena, please consider making a donation to Forward Montana.