Weekly Update – 1/11/2019
Weekly Update 1/18/2019
Weekly Update 1/25/19
Bills we opposed:
SB 22: Last week ACLU of Montana staff testified in opposition to this 50 dollar court surcharge increase which would be tacked on to every criminal defendant’s court costs and negatively impact low income offenders by increasing their court debt. The bill passed out of Senate Judiciary committee along party lines. It is set to be heard on January 28th for a third and final vote on the Senate floor. If it passes, it will continue on to House Judiciary committee.
HB 199: This bill would add 6 months in jail and fines to the Bully-Free Montana Act, criminalizing K-12 students, former students, teachers, and other adults who engage in bullying behavior. This bill would increase school resource officer arresting authority, which has been shown increase violence in public schools.
SB 65: In an enormous rewrite and reorganization of Montana’s DUI laws, the Department of Justice is attempting to exponentially increase penalties for driving under the influence, in some cases making it an automatic felony if you are arrested a second time even if your blood alcohol content is below .08 percent. The bill decreases the required blood alcohol content to in some cases, institutes mandatory minimums for repeat offenders, and will drastically increase the caseloads of public defenders and other agencies to the tune of 3.2 million dollars. SB 65 will further clog our courts and jails and increase criminalization of people with serious addiction issues. This bill awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary committee.
HB 233: This bill would restrict a defendant’s ability to challenge a guilty plea that was coerced or forced by law enforcement or county attorneys. According to the bill, the defendant may appeal a guilty plea made in justice court to the district court, but if the district court denies the withdrawal, the defendant will not be able to appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. This cuts off an essential review process for criminal defendants who may have misunderstood the terms of their pleas or made guilty pleas under pressure.
SB 114: This bill expands the definition of what constitutes stalking. Unfortunately, SB 114 also creates harsher than necessary penalties, adding a possibility of 10 years in prison and $50,000 fine for a second, non-violent offense. SB 114 includes language that counts tribal convictions when determining the number of times a person has been convicted of stalking. Because tribal criminal codes and procedures do not mirror state criminal codes and procedures, convictions should not be treated as if they were accomplished under the same circumstances. Without consent from tribes to include tribal convictions in counting the number of convictions, this is an encroachment on tribal sovereignty. We're working with legislators to introduce amendments that will ensure tribal sovereignty and reduce penalties.
Bills we supported:
SB 30: This bill would expand Medicaid coverage to include behavioral health peer support services. Peer support programs are a vital and unique way to support people who are recovering from substance use disorders or other behavioral health issues. When people have access to peers, their outcomes improve. People in peer support programs have fewer symptoms and end up in the hospital less often. Their well-being and self-esteem improve, and they participate more in their communities. Their recoveries are also more thorough and longer-lasting. Access to peer support programs would also help people on probation or parole. We know from our research on probation and parole in Montana that lack of access to treatment is a problem. Of the 94 people on probation or parole that we interviewed for our report, Set Up to Fail: Montana’s Probation & Parole System, 45 percent said they had a history of mental health issues and 61 percent reported issues with substance use. Many people we interviewed noted that lack of access to the treatment they needed made it harder for them to stay out of jail or complete their probation or parole requirements. Increasing access to peer support - by making it Medicaid reimbursable – would help improve outcomes for people who are stuck in the maze of Montana’s broken probation and parole system.
HB 155:This bill would repeal the statewide ban on switchblade knives. A switchblade ban, enacted in the 1950s, unnecessarily criminalizes people for possessing a blade that is not more dangerous than a regular pocket knife. Removing the ban will remove one more unnecessary crime from our state criminal codes. The hearing took place on Monday, January 21st and the bill passed unanimously through committee on Wednesday, January 23rd. It will be heard by the full house on Monday, January 28th.
Weekly Update 2/1/2019
This week turned out to be very busy at the legislature. If you are interested in volunteering to support ACLU at the Capitol, click here! Join us next week on Feb. 11th for our Lobby Day and an opportunity to speak with legislators face-to-face on the issues.
Bills we opposed:
SB 22: This bill would increase the victim and witness surcharge levied against defendants in criminal courts, which would disproportionately harm low-income people. It was heard on the Senate Floor this week, and failed in third reading. The sponsor, Rep. Webb made a motion to revive the bill and send it back to the committee for further tinkering. We are still awaiting the new hearing date in Senate Judiciary.
SB 65: This bill would be an enormous rewrite and reorganization of Montana’s DUI laws. It would further clog our courts and jails and increase criminalization of people with serious substance use disorders. This bill was heard in Senate Judiciary last week and it has not yet gotten a vote.
SB 147: This bill would expand the definition of prostitution in an attempt to protect victims of sex trafficking. We know that when sex workers are criminalized, they are more likely to experience violence against them and less likely to report that volence. Instead of focusing on businesses or proprietors who force people into sex work, this bill’s expansion of the definition of prostitution would punish those who are victims of sex trafficking themselves. We are working with lawmakers to amend this bill in a way that focuses on traffickers instead of those who are victims of trafficking.
HB 146 & 147: This bill and referendum would penalize cities that choose to use their law enforcement resources on state and local issues instead of helping enforce federal immigration laws. It would require all local governments and state agencies to comply with requests to provide immigration status information for their community members and comply with federal immigration detainer requests. This bill would also require the attorney general’s office to investigate any possible occurrence of non-compliance. This bill would decrease public safety, encourage racial profiling tactics by police, and impose serious costs on state and local governments or state agencies, including the prospect of expensive lawsuits and settlements.
SB 100: This bill would require a doctor to offer patients who are pregnant and may be seeking an abortion the opportunity for an ultrasound and sonogram. This is an infringement on the First Amendment rights of physicians, the privacy rights of the patient, and may even constitute sex discrimination. This creates another medically unnecessary hurdle between a woman and her constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion.
HB 48: This bill would include tribal convictions in determining the number of total convictions a person has had for partner or family member assault in state criminal courts. Since tribal courts operate separate from state courts and often have different procedures and standards, the circumstances under which a tribal member can be convicted in tribal court are not equivalent to state courts and convictions should not be treated as if they were accomplished under the same circumstances. Additionally, no evidence was presented that the Department of Justice consulted with tribes about this statutory change. The ACLU recommended that the DOJ consult with tribes and that committee members take into consideration the differences between tribal criminal codes, courts, and procedures.
Bills we supported:
SB 156: This bill would protect individuals from wrongful convictions based on unreliable testimony from incentivized witnesses. Currently, prosecutors are allowed to offer incentives, like reduced jail time, in exchange for an individual to provide testimony against a defendant. This bill would ensure that incentivized testimony is submitted and reviewed in the same way as other testimony in the case and any incentives offered are clearly stated for court, jury, and defense to weigh the reliability.
SB 172: This bill would create a process and standard for an individual to petition the court to consider new evidence that may be available from advances in forensic science tools. The bill also provides clarity in the process for an individual to have their penalty and fines removed in a timely manner when new evidence provides proof of wrongful conviction.
SB 168: This bill would eliminate questions on job applications seeking to collect information on an individual’s past criminal record. This would be a significant step in supporting individuals who are in Montana's probation and parole system and are required to find employment as a condition of supervision. It would also combat bias that formerly incarcerated individuals face in the initial stages of the job application process. By removing this job application barrier, individuals may have access to more employment opportunities.
HB 54: This bill would create a standard for all law enforcement to accept a report on a missing person. This will have significant positive impact on Federal Indian Reservations, where a missing person report is often stalled due to confusion regarding tribal, local, state, and federal law enforcement jurisdiction. This bill seeks to encourage all law enforcement authorities to work cooperatively to report and investigate cases of missing persons in the state.
HB 21: This bill is named Hanna’s Act in remembrance of Hanna Harris, a Lame Deer woman who was murdered in 2013 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. It would create and allocate funding for a Missing Person specialist, based in the Dept. of Justice. This specialist would work closely with local, tribal, state, and federal law enforcement authorities on missing person cases. This specialist would also oversee a database to ensure update-to-date and accurate records of missing persons. This role would fill a current gap in our Dept of Justice and provide the needed support for the current crisis of murder and missing women and children within Indigenous communities in our state.
HB 199: This bill, which was heard last week in House Judiciary, would have added 6 months in jail and fines to the Bully-Free Montana Act, criminalizing K-12 students, former students, teachers, and other adults who engage in bullying behavior. This week, it was tabled in committee - effectively “killing” the bill!
Weekly Update 2/8/2019
Weekly Update 2/15/2019
Weekly Update 2/22/2019
Weekly Update - 3/1/2019
Weekly Update - 3/15/2019
Weekly Update - 3/22/2019
Bills we supported
SJ 18: This bill would create an interim study to understand the occupational licensing barriers faced by individuals with criminal records. Having access to meaningful employment is the one of the greatest indicators of success for those on probation and parole. SJ 18 was heard this week in Senate Judiciary and was passed out of committee.
SJ 19: This bill would create an interim study of sex and violent offender registries. Within the scope of the study, it will review methods for reducing and eliminating recidivism and examining options for the post-sentence appeals concerning the registry status. SJ 19 was heard this week in Senate Judiciary and is awaiting a vote from committee.
Bills we opposed
SB 114: This bill would expand the definition of what constitutes stalking. The bill still contains harsher than necessary penalties and language that would count tribal convictions when determining the number of times a person has been convicted of stalking. Tribal convictions occur under tribal criminal code and procedures, which does not necessarily mirror state criminal codes and procedures. Thus, convictions should not be treated like they were accomplished under the same circumstances. Without consent from tribes to include tribal convictions, this is an encroachment on tribal sovereignty. SB 114 received its second hearing in House Judiciary this week. We are working with legislators to introduce amendments to remove stacking of tribal convictions and reduce penalties.
HB 302: This bill would change the Montana Constitution to add a definition of “person” that includes a fertilized egg. If this bill passed, it would effectively ban abortion in the state via our criminal statutes, as an abortion under this proposed language would be considered homicide. Since HB 302 is a constitutional referendum, it requires 2/3 of the legislators to vote YES on it. HB 302 received its second hearing in Senate Judiciary this week and is awaiting a vote from committee members.
HB 233: This bill would restrict a defendant’s ability to challenge a guilty plea that was coerced or forced by law enforcement or county attorneys. If a district court denies withdrawal of that guilty plea, the defendant would not be able to appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. This effectively cuts off an essential review process for criminal defendants who may have misunderstood the terms of their plea or made the plea under pressure. HB 233 received its second hearing in Senate Judiciary this week and is awaiting a vote from committee members.
SB 21: This bill would add criminal penalty to anyone who allowed a minor to use a tanning bed. This would include business owners, who may not realize that someone under the age of 18 is using a tanning bed in their facility. We recommended amending the bill so the penalty was civil or against a business’s licensure. SB 21 received its second hearing in House Judiciary and is awaiting a vote from the committee.
HB 146: This bill would prohibit localities from establishing policies that would prohibit spending of local resources in order to help federal immigration agencies. It would not allow localities to make their own decisions about what to prioritize to maintain public safety. HB 146 received its second hearing in Senate Judiciary this week and is awaiting a vote from the committee.
Weekly Update - 4/1/2019
Bills we support
HB 217: One of our priority bills this session, this bill would have repealed the part of Montana law that allows driver’s licenses to be suspended for failure to pay court fines and fees, even if they are too poor to pay. Being able to have access to a valid driver’s license is essential for Montanans. Driver licenses should not be suspended unless the suspension is directly connected to driving related offenses. HB 217 received its second hearing, in the Senate, this week and was unfortunately tabled in committee.
HB 658: This bill would renew Medicaid Expansion in Montana. It is a bipartisan compromise, with extensive exemptions from work requirements and no reporting requirements. Renewing Medicaid Expansion will ensure access to healthcare for nearly 96,000 Montanans. Medicaid Expansion provides access to healthcare, mental health services, and treatment for substance use disorders for many on probation and parole who are required to participate in certain programs and need these services to successfully re-enter into their communities. HB 658 had its second hearing in the Senate this week.
Bills we opposed
HB 534: This bill would significantly increase penalties for 5th and subsequent DUIs. We know that increasing penalties will not deter crime. Instead, it increases the criminalization of people with serious addiction issues. The proposed legislation has fiscal impact of more than 2.7 million dollars, which is not a responsible use of Montana’s budget. We should be funding more addiction treatment services in Montana to support repeat offenders. This bill received its second hearing in Senate Judiciary this week and is still awaiting committee vote.
Weekly Update - 4/8/2019
Bills we supported
HB 763: This bill would restrict the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities. It would ensure that individuals are only placed in solitary confinement for serious or threatening behavior and for the shortest time possible. This bill would ensure humane and cost-effective ways of separating prisoners from the general population. HB 763 was voted out of Senate Judiciary committee and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
Bills we opposed
HB 534: This bill would instate mandatory minimums for 4th offence DUI, which would take away judicial discretion in sentencing. This bill would also significantly increase penalties for 5th and subsequent DUI and remove the option of treatment. Increasing penalties will not deter crime and instead potentially increase the criminalization of people with serious addiction issues. This bill passed through Senate Judiciary and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
SB 354: This bill is an attempt to ban abortion in Montana. It contains language that is vague and would criminalize doctors who are helping patients with their legal right to abortion care. Healthcare professionals are already required to provide appropriate and necessary medical care. SB 354 had its passed the house judiciary committee this week and is awaiting 2nd reading on the house floor.
SB 65: This bill would be an enormous overhaul to Montana’s DUI laws. Even after amendments clarifying treatment options to offenders, this bill would still increase penalties for DUIs, institute mandatory minimums for repeat offenders, and would drastically increase the caseloads of public defenders and other agencies, with an overall fiscal impact of 3.2 million dollars. Most egregiously, SB 65 would allow law enforcement officers to draw blood from people suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – the bill contains no warrant requirement for this and no restrictions on where the blood draw must be done. SB 65 was voted down 15-4 in house judiciary last week but the sponsor, Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) and the attorney general’s office revived the bill in the senate by trying to force it onto a budget bill. In a disgusting play, the sponsor and the AG’s office tried to inextricably link passage of their DUI bill with the bills that would address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic. Thankfully, the issues were separated but the DUI bill was still revived. It is now HB 685 and we will continue to fight to stop it.
HB 500: This bill would create an unconstitutional ban of abortions after 20 weeks. It also seeks to establish a legal framework that could ban abortions of any kind in Montana. This bill is an attack on a person’s rightful access to an abortion. HB 500 received its second hearing in Senate Judiciary where it passed on party lines and now awaits a vote on the senate floor.
HB 421: This bill would re-instate jail time for first time offence of disorderly conduct. This jail time was removed last session in a package of criminal justice reform bills and reinstating it would increase the load on already overpopulated county jails. This bill also contains vague language around what constitutes a public safety risk, which could be used to people in jail for non-violent behavior. HB 421 received its second hearing in Senate Judiciary this week and passed through committee on party lines. It now awaits a vote on the senate floor.
HB 48: This bill would include tribal court convictions when determining the number of total convictions, a person has had for a partner or family member assault in state criminal courts. Since tribal courts operate separate from state courts and often have different procedures and standards, the circumstances under which a tribal member can be convicted in tribal courts are not equivalent to state courts. Thus, convictions should not be treated as if they were accomplished under the same circumstances. This bill was voted down on the Senate Floor this week.