*May 9, 2021*
It’s been just over a week since we bid adieu to the 2021 Legislative Session, and we hope y’all have been able to take a breather. As you’re probably aware, a lot of the legislation we saw this session wasn’t so great.
Over the last four months, you may have felt hopeless, angry, or afraid. You may have seen Montana in a new light, or you may have been unsurprised by the ceaseless attacks on our rights and bodies. Maybe you needed to take a step back to care for yourself and your loved ones. Know that we share many of these feelings, and that all of those responses to this year’s legislative sh*tshow are valid.
We should take time to rest, but we can’t disengage. The wheels of white supremacy, transphobia, and homophobia will keep turning in Montana. Each and every young person is needed to transform our state into a safe and loving place to live.
In our wrap-up edition, we will take a few minutes to recap the successes and carnage of the 67th Legislative session and share some resources. If you have feedback for us, we’d love to hear from you.
Wondering who’s been keeping you up-to-date this session? Tune in for five giggly minutes with our legislative team.
The science of climate change is strong and alarming. In Montana, we can see glaciers melting before our eyes and feel the smoke in our lungs each summer from worsening forest fires. Environmental changes have social, economic, and political repercussions, while disproportionately affecting low-income communities and BIPOC in our country. Yet, on the state level, we continue to see short-sighted legislation that does not acknowledge or address these pressing issues.
We’ll start off by celebrating the deaths of some horrible bills! HB320 set the stage for the sale of public lands to private interests. SB379 gave Northwestern Energy a blank check for continued investment in the outdated Colstrip power plant while driving up energy bills for Montana households. SB260 would have discouraged the enforcement of environmental regulations put in place for the sake of public health. Thankfully, many environmental advocates banded together to defeat these bills, which did not make it across the finish line.
Now, getting a little heavier. Penalties for fossil fuel protest are about to get a whole lot higher. HB481 will increase the penalties for trespassing and vandalism of energy infrastructure (activities that are already illegal) — to an outrageous extent. The bottom line: HB481 is part of a nationwide effort to shut down Indigenous-led resistance to fossil fuel development. It’s on the Governor’s desk.
Meanwhile, Montana’s energy monopoly, Northwestern Energy (NWE), has gotten away with solidifying its reliance on fossil fuels at our expense. HB475, HB576, and SB237 will likely eliminate the Montana Renewable Portfolio Standard (which was created to encourage renewable energy development across Montana) and repeal the Community Renewable Energy Projects requirement — letting NWE off the hook for $2.5 penalty fees it currently owes to tribal and low income energy assistance programs. HB576 and SB237 are both waiting to be signed.
Montana’s energy industry may also be getting less democratic. HB273 would repeal Initiative 80 (I-80), a long-standing initiative which gave citizens the right to vote on any proposed nuclear facilities in our state. It doesn’t take a history buff to tell us how closely nuclear energy is linked with environmental injustices worldwide. No matter how you feel about nuclear power, Montanans deserve to have a voice. This is also waiting on Gov. Gianforte’s stamp of approval.
We will continue to fight alongside our neighbors young and old for a sustainable climate future, while bringing justice to the forefront of the conversation. In the meantime, support your local farmers! Learn about and participate in Indigenous-led climate movements! And donate to one of the many organizations in our state fighting for a healthy climate future.
The issue of tribal sovereignty is often misunderstood and showed up a lot throughout the session, so we feel it’s important to recap.
Tribal Nations are sovereign nations, meaning they have the right to self-governance and the authority to oversee their own land and resources. They have a unique government-to-government relationship with the federal government. However, several bills introduced this session demonstrated the continued overreach into tribal affairs that Native Nations have been fighting for decades.
SB214, a tax bill rooted in settler colonialism, creates unnecessary barriers to tribal land consolidation efforts. This ignores the sovereignty of tribal nations. HB302 requires county approval to relocate bison. It includes an exemption for tribes, but advocacy organizations say the exemption is vaguely written and the bill could still threaten tribal sovereignty and disrupt ongoing tribal bison restoration efforts in Montana.
Legislation like this continues to erode trust between tribes and state agencies, forcing Native Montanans to sacrifice time and resources in an effort to protect their Constitutional sovereignty.
On a good note, there were several bills introduced this session to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). Three out of four passed and were signed into law — the first of many steps toward addressing this crisis in our state.
If you want to support organizations that advocate for tribal sovereignty, please check out our partners at Western Native Voice.
Y’all, I wish this update could be more heartening, and yet, in keeping with the all-too-familiar theme of less than good news, it’s time to identify some of the barriers the 67th Legislature erected for lower income Montanans.
The passage of HB259 prohibits inclusionary zoning practices in Montana, affecting the current housing efforts of Bozeman and Whitefish and excluding all other towns from using this tactic to address affordable housing needs. ICYMI: inclusionary zoning requires that new residential developments include a certain percentage of affordable units.
And, if you’re a renter, a slew of bills introduced by Rep. Steven Galloway of Great Falls (HB401, HB402, HB439, HB541) will put more power into the hands of landlords, aka himself, and contribute to the already predatory rental environment we face. Thanks to the disproportionate number of contractors and landlords who are elected into office, the housing crisis will be sticking around.
Anti-reproductive healthcare extremists inundated the Capitol this year and we have many new restrictive laws to show for it. As of the end of the session, the Legislature passed bills to ban abortion procedures at 20 weeks, shame abortion patients, inhibit medical practitioners’ ability to provide medication abortions, and restrict funding for low-income Montanans in need of reproductive healthcare services. Lastly, after the passage of HB167 we will see a “Born Alive Infant Protection Act” on the 2022 ballot which would penalize doctors who don’t provide life-saving care to a newborn that has no chance of survival. Families and medical providers already have to make impossible decisions in these situations, and this bill is nothing but cruel political theatre that will re-traumatize Montana families.
A hint of hope! Our voices echoed through the halls on SB100, which would have increased barriers to Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unfairly impacting low-income families. This bill was tabled in committee in early April and we were thrilled to see it stay on that table for the rest of the session.
And finally, the big “T” word. We saw some gallant efforts by legislators — ahem, Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter of Billings – who proposed robinhood-like legislation to raise taxes on the wealthy and put that money towards public programs and services. On the other hand, Gov. Gianforte (again: a wealthy tech mogul from NJ) recruited Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson to carry tax bills that would benefit only the wealthiest Montanans and result in massive revenue losses around the state. SB159 and SB399 will be implemented one after the other, allowing the rich to get even richer. These bills will undoubtedly have long-term consequences.
The road to economic justice is a bumpy ride. Consider following along with us and partner organizations like Montana Budget and Policy Center, Montana Women Vote, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana as we buckle up for the journey ahead. And, if you have the means to donate – the Susan Wickland Fund and MT BIPOC Mutual Aid assist marginalized and healthcare-seeking communities.
With a Republican supermajority that lives and breathes voter suppression, our rights took a hard hit this session. Many horrific bills that will keep eligible citizens from voting passed easily on party-line votes.
One of the biggest, baddest bills of the session, HB176, eliminated same-day voter registration (SVR). That’s right folks, SVR is no longer. ICYMI, Montana voters have affirmed time and time again that they want this service; we implemented SVR in 2005, voted overwhelmingly to keep it in 2014, and continue to use this service — 3,352 Montanans used SVR in the 2020 general election alone. That’s a whole lot of voters who might not be able to make their voices heard in future elections.
This session also brought some targeted attacks on voting for young, low-income, and BIPOC folks. SB169, now law, enacts more stringent voter ID requirements and prohibits the use of student ID as an acceptable form of standalone voter ID (don’t worry, concealed carry permits are still allowed). That’s f*cked up. This means that if you’ve been using your student ID or out-of-state license to vote, you might need to bring extra documentation with your name and MT address when you register and go to vote in person.
Additionally, language inserted into HB530 at the very last minute prohibits paid ballot collection. This prevents groups like our parter org, Forward Montana Foundation, and our other partners from helping voters safely deliver their ballots to their county elections offices on Election Day. An extremely similar law was ruled unconstitutional last year because of its disproportionate impact on rural, Native American voters. This bill, and the other two mentioned above, will have their day in court very soon.
What can you do now? Continue following us on Instagram, follow groups like Western Native Voice, ACLU of MT, and MontPIRG, subscribe to the Montana Free Press newsletter, vote in every election, and talk to your friends and family about the importance of protecting our Constitutional right to participate in our democracy.
Gosh, y’all. It’s been a bumpy ride, but here we are. Nationally, we have seen more bills directly targeting transgender people than ever before. In Montana, this session brought us a whole slew of bills attacking the rights of LGBTQ+ and especially trans Montanans, and our work is far from over. After thousands of messages sent, dozens of hearings watched, and a few exciting victories, here’s where we stand now:
Thanks to the passage of SB215, it is now legal for people, businesses, and other entities to claim “religious exemption” to civil and criminal laws, including nondiscrimination ordinances. In other states, this has led to LGBTQ+ people being denied services, employers refusing insurance coverage for medications like birth control and PreP, and other extremely dystopian-feeling human rights violations. If this scares you (it should) you can urge your U.S. Congressional representatives to support the federal Do No Harm Act.
We also face new barriers to accurate identification. Under SB280, now law, transgender people who want to change the gender marker on their birth certificate must first go to court and present proof of gender confirmation surgery. This law ignores the fact that most trans people never receive surgery, for a variety of reasons, and still deserve to have identification that reflects who they are. If you were born in Montana and could be impacted by this law, the ACLU wants to hear from you. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
The final big change we’re grappling with is the passage of HB112, which prohibits transgender girls and women from participating in school sports in Montana. This is blatant discrimination, and similar laws are currently tied up in courts; we foresee the same happening in Montana. For now, though, hold your trans friends a little closer. This isn’t the end of the fight. Contact Senator Tester and Senator Daines and ask them to vote in support of the Equality Act, which could stop these bills in their tracks.
Let’s end on some good news: we were able to stop not one but TWO bills that aimed to bar transgender children from receiving lifesaving gender-affirming healthcare. We saw these bills pop up across the nation this year, and defeating them here in Montana was no small feat. Each and every one of you who turned up in support of trans youth helped make this happen, and we couldn’t be more grateful.
So where do we go from here? Let’s figure it out together. We know that in the coming years in Montana, we will need to invest in our communities more than ever. We need to build and strengthen support networks for queer and trans Montanans, ensure that everyone has access to the things they need, and continue having conversations with our neighbors about what it means to be LGBTQ2S+ in Montana. We need to dig into our colonial preconceptions of gender and sexuality, individually and as a society. This is hard work, but we’re in it together.
If you have dreams about what queer connection could look like in Montana, hit our line. In the meantime, if you are a trans, gender-nonconforming, or Two-Spirit Montanan (or the parent of a child who holds these identities) and are in need of community, you can reach out to email@example.com to chat about support groups.
Finally, check out this beautiful blog post written by an FMT intern, where she reflects on what it’s been like to be queer in Montana over these last few months.
Rest, drink water, soak up the sun – our work has just begun.