Legislative update: April 23 - 28

The legislative session is wrapping up this week, but we’re not sure what day. We hope the bills still awaiting votes in the House and Senate will move forward quickly enough to make it to the Governor’s desk before sine die. We are still waiting on a handful of bills – keep reading for updates on their current status. And keep your fingers crossed that they pass before the legislature adjourns sometime this week. Another important factor is that Tuesday marks the 85th day of the session, making it the transmittal deadline for Interim Study Resolutions, when they have to make it through both chambers to stay alive.

Supported by the ACLU

SJ 41 - Interim study of DOC facilities and community corrections programs

Sponsored by Rep. Kelker,  this study would designate an interim committee to review the existing correctional populations and projected populations to determine if the existing state-owned buildings and facilities, as well as the community corrections services available, will continue to meet the needs of an evolving correctional system. This session has produced many important bills from the Sentencing Commission but rejected at least three bills that would have revised the functions of state-operated correctional and treatment facilities, making this the opportune time for an in-depth interim study on our correctional buildings and facilities.

SJ 41 passed 2nd Reading and 3rd Reading in the House Monday and has been transferred to the Senate. SJ 41 has not yet been put on Tuesday’s agenda for the senate floor but it must make it through 2nd and 3rd Reading to meet the Transmittal deadline. Call your Senators and urge them to support this important bill!

HB 133 - Generally revise sentencing laws

HB 133, sponsored by Rep. McConnell, is a much needed overhaul to Montana’s sentencing laws, reducing jail and prison time for non-violent and first time offenses and giving many first time, low-level offenders a second chance to stay out of the criminal justice system.

Both the House and Senate accepted a Conference Report on HB133 on Monday that contained an amendment regarding mandatory minimums. The bill has been scheduled for 3rd Reading in the Senate on Tuesday and has yet to be scheduled in the House. Call your Senators and tell them to vote YES!

SB 64, SB 63, SB 59 – Sentencing Reform

These bills, all carried by Sen. Wolken, are 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.

SB 64 would increase the efficiency of the currently volunteer run parole board by professionalizing the board and increasing its size. SB 63 would reduce recidivism & reform supervision of offenders by changing how and when an offender's probation is revoked and creating alternative sanctions. SB 59 would implement the use of risk-assessments during the pre-trial phase, giving courts an evidence based tool to help prioritize resources and low-risk offenders a chance to be supervised in their communities.

SB 59, 63, and 64 are in Final Preparation after the House and Senate approved Conference Committee Reports on all! These bills mark the beginning of a much needed overhaul to Montana’s criminal justice and corrections systems and we thank Sen. Wolken, along with the other legislators and stakeholders who helped make them a reality.

Opposed by ACLU

SB 329 - Adopt the Montana Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act & SB 282 – 24 Week Abortion Ban

SB 329 is an unconstitutional ban on abortion after 20 weeks disguised as an attempt to protect “the lives of unborn children,” this bill compromises women’s health and privacy and criminalizes abortion by creating serious legal ramifications for providers, including felony charges for physicians. Unconstitutional, manipulative, and dangerous - this legislation has no place in our state.

SB 282, sponsored by Sen. Olszewski, is an unconstitutional piece of anti-reproductive rights legislation that, among other restrictions, strives to redefine the definition of a “viable fetus.” 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. 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.

Both of these dangerous bills successfully passed through both chambers and are in the Enrolling and Final Preparation Stages. Luckily, a coordination instruction was put on SB 329 stating that if both SB 282 and 329 passed and approved, 329 would be void. Governor Bullock has been a choice advocate in past legislative sessions and we have high hopes that SB 282 will see his veto pen when it comes across his desk!

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. Sen. 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. Sen. Howard is using the legislative process to bully the Montana Supreme Court and to prevent equal treatment of LGBT Montanans in our justice system.

SJ 15 passed 3rd Reading in the House, 58 - 41,  and it remains in the Enrolling and Final Preparation Process.

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