Legislative update: March 6 - 10

First week back from the legislative break. For those of you not familiar with the legislative process, it is important to note that if a bill (with a few exceptions) doesn’t make it to the other house by Transmittal Break, it is likely dead. That means that now we have a much clearer picture of the bad legislation we still have to fight and which proactive legislation may just make it to the finish line! Please follow us on Facebook and twitter to stay up to date on the which bills are moving and respond to our ACLU Action Alerts!

Old bad bills to keep an eye on

SB 282 – 24 Week Abortion Ban

This unconstitutional piece of anti-reproductive rights legislation is sponsored by Senator Olszewski. Unfortunately, it flies in the face of over 40 years of SCOTUS precedent on the right of women to access abortion services. The Supreme Court has found again and again that states are prevented from setting a viability marker and that viability should only be determined by a doctor on a case-by-case basis. Sen. Olszewski’s bill also makes not exception for post-viability abortion when the life of the mother is at risk, another patently unconstitutional provision that violates Supreme Court precedent. Though the sponsor says that SB 282 is about protecting women, we know it is really the latest in a long list of attempts to make abortion almost impossible to access. This bill passed off the senate floor and is now on its way to a hearing in the house.

Call your House representatives and tell them to get the government out of private, medical decisions.

SJ 15 – Anti-LGBT resolution preventing equality in the provision of legal services

The American Bar Association has adopted a new Model Rule of Professional Conduct that would prohibit discrimination in the provision of legal services – including discrimination against LGBT people. Senator David Howard has filed a resolution in the senate opposing adoption of a similar rule in Montana, a move being considered by the Montana Supreme Court. Senator Howard is using the legislative process to bully the Montana Supreme Court and to prevent equal treatment of LGBT Montanans in our justice system.

This bill passed out of the senate last week - call your House representatives and tell them to VOTE NO on SJ 15 – the only bill in the 2017 legislative session that proactively targets the LGBT community for discrimination.

SB 97 – Prohibit application of foreign law in state courts

Senator Keith Regier (R) has picked up this torch from last session, seeking to prohibit something that has never actually happened in the United States – the application of foreign laws in our courts. Unfortunately, this innocuously named piece of legislation is far darker that the title implies. Each time it has been heard, the true motives have been revealed through proponent testimony. SB 97 is nothing more than Islamophobia shrouded in the idea that our courts need protection.  Regardless of whether the bill title says “foreign law,” proponents really mean Sharia law. This legislation does not reflect Montana values and its passage will only increase anti-Muslim sentiment in the legislature and the state.

This bill has a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee this Thursday, March 9. Call your representatives and tell them to VOTE NO on SB 97.

HB 93 – Policing for Profit

HB 93, sponsored by Rep. Garner (R), increases the court surcharge in criminal cases by 50% and earmarks that money the law enforcement academy. This directly ties how many people police arrest to the amount of money the academy receives. HB 93 is policing-for-profit, plain and simple. While the legislature should fund the academy, the funding should come through the appropriations process, not on the backs of Montanans who find themselves in court for traffic offenses.

This bill has passed the House and has a hearing in Senate Judiciary this Thursday, March 9. Call your senators and tell them to VOTE NO on HB 93 and policing-for-profit.


ACLU supported bills with hearings this week

HB 149 – Ban use of license plate readers by law enforcement

HB 149, filed by Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings) would ban the use of license plate readers by law enforcement. These readers have been used to mass surveil everything from church parking lots to political conventions – a serious, unwarranted invasion of privacy. This bill is up for a hearing in Senate Judiciary this week.

Call your senators and ask them to support this important step toward protecting the privacy of Montanans.

HB 77 – Revise public defender system to provide for a director hired by the governor

HB 77, sponsored by Rep. Randy Brodehl (R), will provide a much needed overhaul to the management structure of the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), providing for a director hired by the governor with input from the OPD Commission. It would also streamline some administrative responsibilities within the department. Hopefully, along with a provision requiring an interim study on the case loads of Montana’s hardworking public defenders, this bill will go a long way in relieving some of the burden on the OPD system. HB 77 has passed the house and has its first hearing in the senate this week.

Call your senators and ask them to support this important improvement to the Public Defender System. 


ACLU support bills that are still alive, post-transmittal

SB 64, SB 63, SB 60, SB 59, SB 65, SJ 3 – Sentencing Reform

This large package of bills, all carried by Senator Cynthia Wolken (D), is the result of the interim work of the Commission on Sentencing. The bipartisan commission exhaustively studied our criminal justice system and, specifically, how Montanans cycle in and out of Montana prisons, jails, and correctional supervision (probation and parole). Democrats and republicans worked together to craft solutions, resulting in the bills listed above.

This package would professionalize the parole board, reform supervision of offenders to encourage treatment and reduce recidivism, and move more low-level offenders toward supervision before ever having to enter the prison system. Additionally, it would implement the use of risk-assessments during the pre-trial phase, increase housing options for the formerly incarcerated, and mandate a study to determine the feasibility of sending tribal members back to their tribal communities to complete the conditions of their sentences. Does this seem like a lot to you? It is – and we are excited to support each piece of this important package.

These bills are all either on their way to the House Judiciary  Committee, or have been heard by that committee and are awaiting a vote. Call your representatives TODAY and ask them to vote YES on each of these bills.