Policy committees continued to be busy during the second week of the session with hearings on anti-immigrant and anti-choice bills and measures to restrict voting rights. Additionally, the budget subcommittees held hearings on the budgets for the Office of Public Defender and the Montana Board of Crime Control.

Criminal Justice

We opposed SB 110, a bill that creates a new surcharge for almost all criminal convictions, including many minor non-violent offenses like traffic violations. The funds raised by the surcharge would be use to fund a statewide grant program for private nonprofit crime prevention programs. While we support smart and effective programs to reduce crime and over-incarceration, we oppose adding even more surcharges to criminal convictions. The surcharges, fees and costs assessed to offenders can be a real barrier for low-income people to move forward after a conviction. We requested that the committee amend the bill to make the funding mechanism a general fund appropriation. The Senate Judiciary Committee tabled the bill.

Budget Items

The Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement and Justice held hearings on the budget items for the Montana Board of Crime Control and the Office of Public Defender and took initial executive action. While the committee did not approve all of the OPD's budget requests at this time, these items remain open and subject to revision as the committee works through other agency requests. We will continue to advocate for the committee to fully fund the OPD requests.

Voting Rights

The House State Administration Committee heard bills to repeal same-day voter registration (HB 30) and to require specific types of identification for voters (HB 108). Both measures were passed in significantly the same form last session and were vetoed. We oppose both measures.

Reproductive Choice

The House Judiciary Committee heard HB 104, to "criminalize offenses involving the death of an unborn child." We have repeatedly opposed this proposal as a misguided attempt to address violence against women. This bill inserts politically charged language into our criminal code, fails to adequately protect women and providers from prosecution, and leaves women who have miscarriages vulnerable to intrusive investigations as part of criminal prosecutions. This bill has been introduced in previous sessions and has repeatedly failed to pass the legislature or has been vetoed. The committee passed this bill with amendments.


The House Judiciary Committee also heard HB 50, which would prevent local governments from adopting immigration sanctuary policies. Such local policies typically state that the local government will comply with federal law, but will not direct additional local resources to enforcing federal immigration law. This bill goes beyond federal requirements and lessens local governments' ability to decide how to use their limited local law enforcement resources. The committee passed this bill.

Committee and Floor Actions on Previous Bills

Indigent Defense

  • SB 53, which removes the possibility of jail time for certain non-violent misdemeanor crimes, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Floor. We supported this bill as it alleviates OPD caseloads and take a step towards addressing over-incarceration and jail overcrowding.
  • HB 92, which would remove the requirement that a public defender participate in drug and mental health specialty courts, passed the House Floor. We supported this bill as a means to limit the scope of OPD representation to cases that implicate a 6th Amendment right to counsel.

Coming up at the Capitol next week


The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear SB 107, which amends the criminal code to delete same-sex relations from the definition of deviate sexual conduct. We strongly support this bill.  This measure is an effort to bring the statute into compliance with rulings by the Montana State Supreme Court in the Gryczan case and the United States Supreme Court in the Lawrence case.

Women's Rights

Join the ACLU of Montana and other members of the Montana Reproductive Rights Coalition at noon on Tuesday for a rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision. Lunch will be served.

Government Surveillance

The Senate Judiciary Committee will also hear SB 150. We support this bill to restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as "drones."

Voting Rights

The House State Administration Committee will hear HB 200. We oppose the bill's provisions that would prevent a voter from having another person return his or her absentee ballot to the county elections office.

Hearings and floor sessions can be accessed online.