On January 2, the 2017 class of Montana legislators will be sworn in and the first week of the biennial legislative session will kick off. And, as is the case every first legislative day, the ACLU of Montana will be back in the capitol to protect the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Montanans, including members of the 13 Native American tribes within the state.
This legislative session will see the usual suspects – legislators who file bills attacking the reproductive rights of women, seek to make the lives of the formerly incarcerated more difficult, refuse to grant equal rights to the LGBT community, and add new crimes to our statutes which will only further crowd our already swelling jail and prison system. We will also have our champions – those Democrats and Republicans who care about our privacy, fight for equality regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, see the futility and danger in demonizing immigrants and refugees, and hope to reduce mass incarceration by providing truly supportive services and second chances to those unlucky enough to enter the criminal justice system.
The ACLU of Montana is already on the lookout for bills we must oppose that will harm our neighbors, friends, and family. At the same time, we are pleased to already see bills filed by our allies that will have our full support. As the legislative session comes into full swing, keep an eye out for the following:
Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Refugee legislation
There are already at least 8 bills filed by a handful of Republican legislators (Reps. Nancy Balance, David Howard, and Sen. Bob Keenan) to restrict refugee resettlement in Montana and make the lives of immigrants more difficult than they already are. These range from banning sanctuary cities – there aren’t any in Montana – to jiggering with funding streams to help refugees fleeing war resettles in the state.
Anti-reproductive freedom legislation
As always, the majority of anti-abortion legislation thus far has been filed by male legislators wishing to insert their judgement into the exam room and between a woman and her doctor. Thus far there are at least 4 anti-reproductive freedom bills and we expect to see more come down pipe as the session continues.
The ACLU is lucky to have bipartisan champions for privacy rights in the state legislature. Representative Daniel Zolnikov and a few other liberty-minded house members have filed legislation that would require warrants to access your phone and emails, ban the collection of biometric data by government entities and private corporations, and prevent the government from using license plate readers to monitor your movements.
Criminal Justice Reform
During the 2017 Interim Session the Commission on Sentencing, led by a bipartisan contingent of both House and Senate members, crafted and put forward a meaningful group of bills to decrease our prison and jail populations in Montana. Focused on reducing recidivism, these bills seek to increase recovery programming, eliminate jail time for low-level and non-violent offenses, and make improvements to our probation and parole system to provide effective support for the formerly incarcerated re-entering our communities.
The ACLU will also be supporting the addition of LGBT people to the Montana Human Rights Act, the repeal of the death penalty, and greater voting access through automatic voter registration. Please stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for weekly updates and specific bills to support!