Legislative update: Week 2, January 9 -13

Last week, committees began to meet in earnest. On Thursday and Friday, Senators Swandal, Malek, and Sands presented a package of bills to the Senate Judiciary Committee which aim to update Montana’s archaic and confusing sexual assault laws. The hearings went well and the ACLU is supportive of all the changes proposed. We hope to see these bills voted out of the committee and brought to the senate floor for debate.

This week, all committees will begin their full-time schedules, sometimes meeting daily in order to keep up with the deluge of bills requested by over 100 members of the house and 50 members of the senate. The ACLU will be busy in both senate and house judiciary committees throughout the session. This week, the following important bills are having their first hearings:


Supported by the ACLU:

Public Defender Task Force

These three bills, HB 58 – Dudik (D), HB 59 – Dudik, HB 89 – Dudik, come from the bipartisan efforts of the Public Defender Task Force, which met during the entirety of the interim to craft solutions for an overburdened and underfunded department. These three bills would require a study of public defender caseloads, reorganize the management of the department, and establish a holistic defense project within the OPD system.


Lowering Incarceration Rates

Each of these bills would go a long way in reducing the amount of Montanans currently in the state prison and county jail systems.

SB 62 – Wolken (D) would provide funding for Peer Support Specialists who would help those leaving the prison system reacclimate to their communities and avoid recidivism. 

SB 90 – Swandal (R) would remove mandatory jail time for people driving on a suspended or revoked license, a non-violent offense that should not mean automatic jail time – especially for those who are just trying to get to work or the grocery store.

HB 133 – McConnell (D) 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.

HB 168 – Brown (D) would provide an opportunity for people with misdemeanor convictions to get those convictions expunged if they haven’t re-offended within 5 years of the crime and have completed the conditions of their sentence – a common sense measure to give folks who made a mistake the chance at a clean slate.


Opposed by the ACLU:

There are currently no hearings scheduled this week for bills which the ACLU opposes.  


What you can do to help:

Contact your legislator and tell them to support lowering incarceration rates and the Public Defender Task Force. Also, like ACLU Montana on Facebook and sign up for our Action Alerts.