Legislative update: Week 4, January 23-27

Things are heating and speeding up at the legislative session. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter  to stay up to date on which bills are moving and respond to our ACLU Action Alerts!


Supported by the ACLU:

HB 46 – Revising temporary roadblock laws

Rep. Zolnikov (R) brought this bill with the support of the Montana Highway Patrol and the ACLU of Montana. HB 46 will provide guidance to law enforcement who seek to setup checkpoints and roadblocks, limiting the reasons for use of these tactics and requiring police departments to make a case for each roadblock they will use. Providing these sideboards will not only help law enforcement know when and how to use checkpoints, but will also prohibit using them to randomly check for criminal activity that does not have a legitimate public safety purpose.

Call your senators in the Senate Transportation Committee and tell them to vote YES on HB 46.

HB 46 is being heard in that committee on Thursday, January 26.


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.

Call the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask for YES votes on each of these bills.


HB 148 and HB 149 – Digital privacy

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov has been a consistent champion of privacy rights for Montanans during his tenure as a legislator. This year, he has re-filed two very important bills that the ACLU will be supporting. HB 148 would restrict police access to third party databases containing your electronic records. For example, under HB 148, the police couldn’t go to Verizon and ask for all of your text messages without a warrant signed by a judge. It would also require that notice be given to you if/when the government does attempt to access your data (with certain exceptions). HB 149 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.

Contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask for YES votes on each of these bills.



Opposed by the ACLU:

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.

Contact your House Reps and ask for a NO vote on this bill.


HB 268 – Create offense related to assault on healthcare and emergency providers

HB 268 creates a duplicate, unnecessary felony in Montana’s criminal code. Montana statutes already provide penalties for simple assault, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, and assault with a bodily fluid. Unfortunately, HB 268 would duplicate the language from the simple assault statute, but increase the penalty from a misdemeanor (500 dollars, 6 months in jail) to a felony (10 years in jail, 50,000 dollars) if the victim is a nurse or emergency worker. We agree that nurses should be protected from assault, but hospitals should take responsibility for that protection. Our current statutes already provide criminal penalties – an additional assault penalty is unnecessary. People in crisis who need help at the hospital and are suffering from mental health and addiction issues, should not be charged with felonies for something that would otherwise be a misdemeanor.

Contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask for a NO vote on this bill.


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 protecting.  Regardless of whether the bill title says “foreign law,” proponents really mean Sharia law. This xenophobic manifestation of Islamophobia does not reflect Montana values and its passage will only increase anti-Muslim sentiment in the legislature and the state.

Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask for NO votes on SB 97.