The Legislative Session this year brought an unprecedented onslaught of legislation attacking Montanans’ civil rights and liberties. Our team worked incredibly hard against bills that undermined the fundamental rights of people living in Montana -- especially transgender youth, people in the criminal legal system, immigrants and refugees, Indigenous and young voters, and pregnant people. Thank you for all you did this session to hold lawmakers accountable. Because of you, lawmakers received thousands of emails and phone calls. A lot of harmful bills still passed, but you helped stop some terrible bills from getting through.
For those bills that were signed into law, we will continue to fight and already have several lawsuits lined up. We also had a few wins during the session, especially around some reforms to improve Montana’s criminal legal system.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the bills we supported or opposed, but here’s a rundown of the bills on which we spent the majority of our time.
For a detailed list of all the bills Click Here
Like many across the country, Montana legislators made the disturbing decision to attack trans youth, LGBTQ, and two-spirit people in this session. Despite all of the advocacy against these discriminatory bills, a few made their way to Governor Gianforte’s desk:
- SB 215 established the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which could open the door for Montana businesses and services to claim religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others.
- SB 280 will make it harder, and sometimes impossible, for trans and non-binary Montanans to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.
- HB 112 bans trans girls from playing on a girls’ sports team.
Because of all the amazing advocacy from trans people and allies, business leaders, medical professionals, and more, together we managed to shut down a few anti-trans bills:
- HB 113 would have banned gender-affirming surgery for trans youth. HB 427 was a similar bill that also failed to pass. Both 113 and 427 would have severely compromised positive health outcomes for trans youth and targeted trans youth for discriminatory treatment.
During this session, we saw an unprecedented attack on reproductive freedom-- Montana’s legislators drafted nearly 20 anti-abortion bills this session. While several anti-abortion bills passed, this is far from over.
Governer Gianforte signed numerous anti-abortion bills into law including:
- HB 136 bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, including imposing harsh civil penalties on medical professionals who provide abortions after 20 weeks.
- HB 140 attempts to shame those seeking an abortion, by requiring healthcare providers to record whether a patient chose to view an ultrasound or listen to a fetal heartbeat.
- HB 229 restricts abortion by forbidding some tax-payer-subsidized insurance policies from covering abortions.
- HB 171 requires all medications to induce an abortion to be distributed in person and also requires providers to communicate to the patient a plethora of exaggerated and medically unsubstantiated risks that are only meant to scare and intimidate patients. This bill is so extreme that it could lead to health care providers ending up in prison for 20 years.
We did kill a bill that would have placed a question on the 2022 ballot that, if approved by voters, would change the state constitution by granting the full rights guaranteed by the Montana Constitution to a fertilized egg or fetus, separate from the pregnant person. Unfortunately, another bill passed that will place a redundant and unnecessary question about abortion on the 2022 ballot.
What you need to know is that abortion remains protected as a fundamental right under Montana’s constitution for now. And we will fight to keep it that way.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
In this session, we saw bills that dealt with free speech in public universities.
- HB 218 prohibits school administrators from confining political expression to designated areas on public campuses. This bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law.
- HB 349 this bill will allow individual student groups to discriminate in their membership and ensures that they will still be eligible for school funding. We opposed this bill, but it did pass.
We supported a bill, SB 156, signed by the Governor, that will stop the unregulated scanning, retention, and dissemination of the information contained in Montanans’ driver’s licenses and better protect people from identity theft. Another bill that we also supported and that passed, HB 602, will offer protections to Montanans against unreasonable searches and seizures while they enjoy technological advancements that allow them to better understand their ancestry and health information.
CRIMINAL LAW REFORM
We supported a number of bills this session that will improve Montana’s criminal legal system, and amended or defeated others that would be punitive and harmful without increasing public safety:
- HB 701 now contains provisions for people with previous marijuana convictions to have their records expunged and sentences reduced. Nobody should be jailed because of marijuana possession.
- HB 92 will provide compensation for people who were wrongfully convicted. There is nothing the state can do to make up for imprisoning an innocent person, but it is our hope that compensation will provide some measure of support for people whose lives were upended by a wrongful conviction.
- SB 303, a study bill, will look into limiting rates and fees for making a phone call from prison and jails, which can sometimes be exorbitant.
- We also successfully worked to limit unnecessary punishment and jail time by offering amendments to several bills, including numerous bills to expand the use of mandatory minimum sentences in Montana law.
- Some lawmakers put in a major effort to bring back lethal injection. In a huge win, we narrowly defeated this harmful bill (HB 244) that would have brought back lethal injection executions in Montana (which are currently suspended as a result of our lawsuit in Smith v. State).
- HB 195 was also defeated. This bill would have excluded incarcerated people from protections under the Montana Human Rights Act. A jail or prison sentence should not make a person an open target for discrimination.
- SB 194 was defeated, a bill that would have expanded private companies’ authority to arrest and detain Montanans.
Immigrants are part of our families and communities. In coalition with others, we fought a few bills that will harm immigrants and the communities in which they live.
- HB 200 and HB 223 were, unfortunately, passed and were signed by the Governor. These bills force local law enforcement to take on the role of federal immigration officials and establish penalties for local governments that opt-out of enforcing immigration detainers.
We also stopped numerous attempts to end Montana’s participation in refugee resettlement programs.
Unfortunately, once again the legislature did everything within its power to restrict Indigenous voting rights:
- HB 455 was defeated, a bill that would have restricted absentee ballots.
- In bad news, HB 530 passed, which limits ballot collection on rural reservations.
- HB 176, which ended Election Day voter registration also passed and was signed by the Governor. These new laws will harm a lot of Montanans, especially Indigenous voters.
We supported Indigenous-led organizations and Indigenous organizers in their work to pass HB 35, HB 98, and SB 4, three bills that will bring more resources and attention to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.
- We also supported bills that would have established Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Montana, which were unfortunately defeated.
- We also fought against HB 481, a bill that creates draconian penalties of up to 30 years for people and organizations protesting around pipelines and other “critical infrastructure.” While we were able to significantly narrow the bill’s scope, it ultimately passed.
- We stopped several bills (SB 271, HB 342, HB 355) that would have made our courts partisan.
- A few bills did pass (SB 140, HB 325) that are patently unconstitutional efforts to undermine the independence of Montana’s judiciary.
We faced an unprecedented session replete with attacks on Montanans’ rights and freedoms. But we did have some wins. We are proud of the bills we helped to pass that will further protect Montanans’ civil rights and liberties. We are proud of the bad bills we stopped. And, where we had losses, we will not give up. This session was better because of you! We sent a lot of emails and actions out and your response was incredible. Thanks for your part in creating a better Montana, and thanks for sticking with us -- there’s a lot of work ahead.