Weekly Update – 1/11/2019

Today wraps up the first week of the 66th Montana Legislative session. Here are some important highlights:
 
This week, House Rules were amended to require 58 votes (previously 60) to "blast" bills out of the committee that have been tabled (i.e. did not receive the number of votes needed to pass out of committee) and onto the house floor for a vote by the full House of Representatives.
 
LC1088: The Keep Montana Healthy Act was introduced on Thursday. This bill would eliminate the sunset date for Medicaid expansion, which is set to expire July 1, 2019. Medicaid expansion provides crucial coverage for substance use treatment and mental healthcare for low-income Montanans and those returning to their communities’ post-incarceration.  This bill would allow Medicaid expansion to continue.
 
LC606: We held a press conference this week with Rep. Casey Knudsen, Americans for Prosperity, and other partners to discuss the necessity and benefits of LC606. This bill would repeal the part of Montana law that permits driver's licenses to be suspended merely for failure to pay court fines and fees. See video of the press conference to hear from Rep. Knudsen, SK Rossi, and AFP State Director David Herbst promote LC606. (update: Bill number HB 217 has been assigned).
 
SB13: This bill was heard in committee on Friday January 11th. It would allocate funds for housing programs to support Indigenous community members during re-entry from the criminal justice system.  Our probation and parole report Set up to Fail found that resources available to individuals upon re-entry were not sufficient and were struggling to find available housing. This bill would work to fix gaps in funds for case management and housing placement services, support landlord engagement activities, and hire housing specialists. 
 

Weekly Update 1/18/2019

This week, ACLU of Montana staff testified on multiple bills to ensure that past progress on criminal justice reform isn’t undone.  We also showed our support for the renewal of Medicaid Expansion. 
 
HB 134 & 138: These bills as presented seek to criminalize sex workers. Sex workers are frequently victims of sex trafficking. When sex workers are criminalized, it increases the likelihood of violence against them, and sets up a system where they can’t go to authorities for help because they fear arrest. We are working with the bill sponsor, Rep. Dudik, to amend the bill language to ensure that the law punishes sex traffickers, not the victims of sex trafficking.
 
HB 116:  We oppose this bill because it would require individuals to continue paying their public defender fees during the time they are incarcerated. If passed, this bill would harm prisoners and create serious challenges upon release because of financial debt accrued from unpaid fees. Low income individuals are disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system. In jail and prison, people have little to no opportunities for regular income. Subjecting people to debt collection when imprisoned is both cruel and futile. In a win, this bill was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. We will keep an eye on it, but hopefully it won’t rear its head again.  
 
LC 1088: On Thursday evening, more than 50 community members showed up to the Capitol for a Medicaid Listening Session. People shared their stories with legislators and the press about how Medicaid Expansion has impacted their lives and the lives of those they care about. ACLU of Montana staff shared the negative consequences that the loss of Medicaid Expansion will have on the criminal justice system. Medicaid Expansion covers mental health and substance use treatment, increases public safety, and decreases recidivism. Call your legislator and urge them to support Keep Montana Healthy Act, LC 1088. #liftthesunset
 

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. 

Victories: 

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

Bills we opposed:
 
HB 354: This bill violates the First Amendment by restricting which resources are available in public schools and libraries if the language or content of those resources contains images of sex or specific sexual organs. It also unconstitutionally imposes zoning regulations on communities and businesses.
 
HB 302: This bill would change the Montana Constitution to add a definition of “person” that includes a fertilized egg. This bill is an attempt to ban abortion in Montana via our criminal statutes, as having an abortion under this new language would be considered homicide. HB 302 is a constitutional referendum that requires 2/3 of the legislators to vote YES. The issue would then appear on the 2020 ballot.
 
HB 338: This bill would restrict the death penalty in Montana to cases where DNA or Biological evidence links the accused to the crime. While, in theory, this would be one step towards abolishing the use of death penalty sentences in the state, it is not the right solution. Biological evidence does not always contain DNA and the process of DNA can be flawed and prone to human error. The only way to ensure an innocent person is never executed in Montana is to completely abolish the death penalty.
 
Bills we supported:
 
HB 20: This bill is part of a package of MMIW bills this session. HB 20 would decrease barriers to the reporting of missing children and increase cooperation between law enforcement agencies. Ultimately, HB 20 will support law enforcement in their search for missing children and ensure relevant information gets to the public faster and more efficiently.
 
SB 181: This bill would ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and those on probation are informed by their probation and parole officers that they have the right to vote. In Montana, you are only prohibited from voting if you are incarcerated in a detention facility.  Once you are released – or even if you are currently restricted to a pre-release center – you have the right to vote in our elections.
 
HJ 9: HJ 9 would study the current system of services for treatment of substance use and mental health disorders. HJ 9 will give an interim committee of legislators the opportunity to take a deep dive into additional or alternative mental health and addiction services needed in Montana. If the legislature wants to reduce homelessness, address untreated mental health and substance use disorders, and increase public safety, it must start exploring ways to fill the gaps in treatment services.
 
HB 217: Currently, Montana’s Motor Vehicle Division suspends the driver’s licenses of people who fail to pay court-ordered fines and fees even if they are too poor to pay. This bill would repeal the part of Montana law that permits driver’s licenses to be suspended for failure to pay court fines and fees. Access to a valid driver’s license is essential to Montanans, and drivers’ licenses should not be suspended unless the suspension is directly connected to a driving related offense.
 
HB 146 & HB 147: This bill and referendum, heard last week in committee, would penalize cities that choose to use their law enforcement resources on state and local issues instead of helping enforce federal immigration laws. This week both the bill and referendum passed through committee. Both will be heard next week on the House floor.
 
Victories:
 
HB 306: This bill would have expanded the situations where a strip search may have been deemed necessary when an individual is arrested or detained. This bill was tabled in committee, effectively “killing” it.


Weekly Update 2/15/2019

This marked the sixth week at the legislature – one third of the way through. Bills are starting to move through both floors and second hearings have already begun. The governor will soon be signing new legislation.  
 
Bills we opposed:
HB 384: This bill would create a new crime for assaulting of a member of the press. Assault is already a crime in Montana. This is an unnecessary bill. Assault should not be penalized differently based on the profession of the victim. We opposed HB 384 because we oppose unecessary expansion of Montana’s criminal code.
 
Bills we supported:
HB 375: This bill would establish standardized protections for the health and safety of incarcerated people who are pregnant or parenting at all of Montana’s detention facilities. Currently, Montana law fails to ensure that incarcerated people who are pregnant or parenting have access to the care they need in order to have a healthy pregnancy. This bill would ensure that pregnant prisoners have access to any needed prenatal care, ban shackling during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and ensure that parents can get breast milk to their newborns.
 
HB 429: This bill would prohibit life-without-parole sentences for individuals who were under 18 when they committed a crime and direct judges to consider age-related mitigating factors when sentencing individuals who were under 18 at the time of an offense. The bill would also direct parole boards to consider age-related mitigating factors when considering parole eligibility for individuals who were under 18 at time of an offense. The process of confining young people—cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education, and often exposing them to further trauma and violence—harms their development and has lifelong negative consequences. This bill brings Montana into compliance with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions scaling back extreme penalties for youth. It will also save the state money be reducing length of incarceration for people who committed crimes in their youth and no longer need to be imprisoned.
 
Bills that moved:
SB 65: This bill, which would be an enormous overhaul to Montana’s DUI laws, was amended several times in Senate Judiciary committee this week. A few of these amendments focused on clarifying available treatment options to offenders and prioritizing treatment for first and second-time offenders. But, even after amendments, the bill would still increase penalties for driving under the influence, in some cases making it an automatic felony if someone is arrested a second time, and will institute mandatory minimums for repeat offenders. Ultimately, this bill will cost Montana 3.2 million dollars. It will clog our courts and jails, and will increase the criminalization of people with serious addiction issues.  Unfortunately, the bill passed through committee with an 8 to 2 vote. It will be heard soon on the Senate floor. We will continue to oppose this bill as it moves through the process.
 
HB 146: This bill would penalize cities that choose to use their law enforcement resources on state and local issues instead of helping enforce federal immigration laws and ultimately decrease public safety, encourage racial profiling tactics by police, and impose serious costs on state and local governments or state agencies. HB 146 passed through third reading on Feb. 12. We continue to oppose this bill and are awaiting referral to Senate committee.
 

Weekly Update 2/22/2019

Bills we opposed:
HB 493: This bill would penalize corporations who exercise their first amendment right to boycott Israel in order to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestine and Palestinians. This bill unquestionably burdens the First Amendment protected speech of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott. The First Amendment protects the right to participate in political boycotts of Israel, as well as any other country. 
 
Bills we supported:
HB 350: This bill would abolish the death penalty in Montana. The death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and equal protection under the law. The death penalty is an antiquated, barbaric and brutal institution and it doesn’t increase public safety or deter violent crime. It does disproportionately impact people of color, individuals suffering from mental illness, and people in poverty. It is time to abolish the death penalty in Montana.
 
HB 498: This bill would allow probationers and parolees to access medical marijuana. The restoration of rights and full access to medical treatment and services is essential for successful re-entry of individuals. Probationers and parolees should be able to access any available treatments that will help them.
 
HB 465: This bill would add explicit protections for LBGT people to the Montana Human Rights Act (MHRA). The MHRA ensures that individuals, no matter race, creed, religion, color, sex, physical or mental disability, age, or national origin, are protected from discrimination in employment and housing. MHRA exists to protect classes of individuals who have experienced an imbalance of treatment because of who they inherently are. LGBT people have historically faced and continue to face large amounts of discrimination. This bill would add “sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression” to this list of protected classes. It is time for Montana to join 20 other states in protecting LGBT individuals. 
 

Weekly Update - 3/1/2019

 
Next week (March 2 through March 6) is the transmittal break. Here's what that means for general bills (any bills that are not appropriations, revenue, or study bill, or a legislative referendum). 
1. If a general bill didn’t make it out of draft form and receive a first hearing, it is now effectively dead. 
2. If a general bill had a first hearing but didn’t make it out of committee or out of one chamber and into the other (e.g. from the House to the Senate), then it is now effectively dead. 
3. Post-transmittal break, bills that effect revenue may continue to be introduced and receive first hearings. 
4. The deadline for a referendum bill to reach the Governor’s desk (meaning it passed successfully through both chambers) is April 1st. 
 
Some ACLU of Montana priority bills have made it through this hurdle. And, we continue to fight the bills we oppose.
 
Bills we support
HB 217: This bill would end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses as punishment for unpaid court fines and fees. It had it’s first hearing in House Judiciary and is still awaiting a committee vote. 
 
HB 425: This Medicaid expansion bill would remove the sunset date, currently set for July 1, and ensure that the almost 100,000 Montanans who currently have health coverage through Medicaid will continue to have coverage. This bill would protect Montanans from unnecessary work requirements and would make Medicaid expansion a permanent fixture in health coverage in the state. 
 
Bills we oppose
HB 146: This bill would penalize local governments that choose to use their law enforcement resources on state and local issues instead of helping enforce federal immigration laws. This bill would ultimately decrease public safety, encourage racial profiling tactics by police, and impose serious costs on state and local governments or state agencies. HB 146 will receive its second hearing in Senate Judiciary after transmittal break. 
 
HB 302: This bill would change the Montana Constitution to add a definition of “person” that included a fertilized egg. This bill is an attempt to ban abortion in Montana through our criminal statutes, as under this new language, abortion would be considered homicide. As a constitutional referendum, it does require that 2/3 of legislators vote yes. If this happens, this issue would appear on the 2020 ballot. HB 302 is set for it’s second hearing in Senate Judiciary after transmittal break.  
 
SB 100: This bill would require doctors to offer pregnant patients who may be seeking an abortion an opportunity for an ultrasound and sonogram. This bill is an infringement on the First Amendment rights of physicians and the privacy rights of patients. It also creates another medically unnecessary hurdle between a patient and their constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion. SB 100 will receive it’s second hearing in House Judiciary after transmittal break. 
 
SB 65: This bill would be an enormous overhaul to Montana’s DUI laws. Even after receiving several amendments clarifying treatment options to offenders, this bill would still increase penalties for driving under the influence, in some cases making it an automatic felony if someone is arrested a second time, and will institute mandatory minimums for repeat offenders. Ultimately, this bill will cost Montana 3.2 million dollars, clogging our courts and jails, and increasing the criminalization of people with addiction issues. That bill is awaiting referral to House committee for its second hearing. 
 
 

Weekly Update - 3/15/2019

We are in the first full week back from transmittal break. Several bills that we are tracking received second hearings. 
 
Bills we support:
 
HB 21: This bill would create a Missing Person specialist, based in the state Dept. of Justice, who would work closely with local, tribal, state, and federal law enforcement authorities on missing person cases. The specialist will 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 21 received its second hearing this week in Senate Judiciary and is awaiting a vote from committee members. 
 
HB 54: This bill would create a standard for all law enforcement to accept a missing person report, which is often stalled when there is confusion regarding jurisdiction. This bill was tabled in committee last week, but on Thursday received enough votes to move onto the Senate floor!
 
HB 155: This bill would repeal the statewide ban on switchblade knives and clean up our criminal code. This bill was voted unanimously out of committee this week!  
 
SB 30: This bill would expand Medicaid coverage to include behavioral health peer support services, which are a vital way to support people who are recovering from substance use disorders or other behavioral health issues. Increasing access to these services and making it Medicaid reimbursable will improve outcomes for people who are in our probation and parole system. SB 30 received its second hearing in House Human Services and is awaiting a vote from committee members. 
 
SB 168: This bill would eliminate questions on job applications seeking to collect information on an individual’s past criminal record, which would combat bias that formerly incarcerated face in the initial stages of the job application process. This bill received its second hearing in House State Admin and is awaiting a vote from committee members.
 
HB 425: This bill would lift the sunset on Medicaid Expansion, which is set to expire on July 1, 2019. Medicaid expansion provides crucial coverage for substance use treatment and mental healthcare for low-income Montanans and those returning to their communities’ post-incarceration. Having access to treatment and healthcare reduces recidivism rates for individuals on probation and parole. This bill would allow Medicaid expansion to continue, a program that currently provides healthcare to 1 in 10 Montanans. 
 
Bills we oppose:
 
HB 534: This bill would significantly increase penalties for 5th and subsequent DUI. Increasing penalties will not deter crime and instead potentially increase the criminalization of people with serious addiction issues. The more than 2.7 million dollar fiscal impact of this proposed legislation is not a responsible use of Montana’s budget and should be used for more addiction treatment services in Montana. This bill received its first hearing in House Judiciary committee. 
 
HB 238: This bill would expand the punishment for those who are convicted of false reporting of a crime, creating a penalty for those who falsely report a felony to be charge with a felony and serve up to 10 years in prison. This bill proposes a disproportionate punishment for those who mistakenly or intentionally misreport a crime. This bill conflates violent crimes with the false reporting of those crimes and those two things are simply not the same. HB 238 received its second hearing this week in Senate Judiciary and is awaiting a vote by the committee. 
 
HB 500: This bill, named the Montana Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is an unconstitutional ban of abortions after 20 weeks and 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 658: This bill seeks to extend Medicaid Expansion with work requirements and other restrictions, which would result in tens of thousands losing healthcare coverage. This bill would significantly impact those on probation and parole who benefit from substance use and mental healthcare and who need these services to successfully reintegrate into their community. HB 658 received its first hearing in House Human Services.
 
 

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.

Victories

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.

 

 

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