Highlights and Lowlights for Week Seven of the Legislature: Outlawing Birth Control, Education, and Solitary Confinement

A quick look at some of the committee hearings this week at the Montana Legislature.


On Monday, Representative Monforton will appear before the House Judiciary to press for an unconstitutional and unscientific amendment to define a person as “all members of the species Homo sapiens at any stage of development, including the stage of fertilization or conception.” The proposal, in HB 425, is so bad that even Montana Right to Life opposes it. The demand that even fertilized eggs are human life would mandate outlawing the most common forms of contraception, including the birth control pill, as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes: “Some of the most effective and reliable forms of contraception — oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, and other forms of FDA-approved contraceptives — would be banned” by “personhood” measures.”

On Wednesday, Monforton will appear before House Judiciary to amend the constitution again—this time to remove language allowing for the restriction of concealed weapons. It’s a fascinating position Monforton is arguing, claiming that “Montana culture has changed” since 1884 when the Territorial Constitution first used that language, justifying removing it. That hardly squares with the position taken by most who identify themselves as defenders of the unchanging Constitution, which demands absolutist adherence to the text of the original document. Monforton’s HB 457 is right to acknowledge that our understanding of the state and national constitutions should evolve over time, but wrong to suggest there should be no restrictions on concealed weapons.

Perhaps the least logical and worst-written bill of the session will be presented in the House Education Committee on Wednesday, when the committee hears Debra Lamm‘s HB 377, which I’ve written about extensively earlier. This bill would, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Common Core State Standards, ignore the Constitutional powers of the Board of Public Education, politicize the development of curriculum standards, and worst of all, put Montana students at a disadvantage by returning them to inferior state standards for Math and Language Arts. It’s a terrible bill—and those concerned about the education of their children should definitely attend the hearing on Wednesday at 3:00 to tell Ms. Lamm to keep her conspiracy theories out of our classrooms.

On the same day, the Education Committee will hear Lamm‘s (HB 376) which would unconstitutionally strip the Board of Public Education of its oversight role for assessment and content standards. Finally, for a trifecta of terrible writing, the House Education Committee will hear her HB 501, which as written, would prevent school districts from determining everything from handwriting from students to discipline records. It was certainly nice of Jeff Sarah Laszloffy to schedule all three of these terrible bills for the same hearing; that should bring out some truly special people to testify on their behalf.

Not satisfied with the efforts of dark money, Republican Steve Fitzpatrick wants to increase the amount of money that can be given to legislative candidates by political campaigns. His HB 502 would almost triple the current limits, to $5,500 for Senate candidates and $3,300 for House candidates—and then increase those totals every subsequent year. House State Administration will hold its hearing on Friday.

On Wednesday, House Human Services will hear Nancy Ballance‘s HB 455, which is the core of the Republican alternative to Governor Bullock’s Medicaid expansion plan. It has the questionable virtues of both covering fewer people and being more expensive to Montanans, which no doubt explains why it received a hearing so soon after introduction, even though a fiscal note has not yet even been produced for it.

The always entertaining spectacle of Nullification Theater moves to the subject of wood burning stoves this week, as Representative Theresa Manzella wants to make it illegal for state employees to enforce the Obama Administration’s so-far silent war on wood. Her HB465 will be heard in full Confederate regalia on Wednesday in House Natural Resources.

You can’t have legislative lowlights list without a little Gary Marbut on it. On Tuesday, the Senate Fish and Game Committee will hear his bill (SB 295) to allow “sportsmen” to useelmer1 silencers when hunting. Now, I’m hardly an expert on harvesting wild animals, but given that only the hunter (and not her prey) is generally equipped with a high-powered rifle, I’d say the sporting thing to do would be to give the animals the chance to escape some yahoo who comes in guns blazing. Even advocates of the use of silencers for hunting unwittingly make the case for keeping them illegal, noting that the big sounds of their guns scare hunters: “This anticipation causes shooters to “flinch” before the gun even goes off, to experience slight tremors in the hand from nervousness, and even to close their eyes or blink right before they pull the trigger.”



Representative Jenny Eck is introducing HB 490, which would restrict the ability of law enforcement and Corrections personnel to use solitary confinement. In particular, the bill’s prohibition of solitary confinement for those under the age of 18 and those with mental illness seem like critical—and obvious reforms. The bill will be heard in House Judiciary on Thursday.

It’s crazy that we need resolution like this, but I appreciate Ed Lieser‘s HJ 19, which is a resolution condemning efforts to have the state of Montana claim or take over federal lands. It will appear before House Natural Resources on Wednesday.

Representative Frank Garner will, on Wednesday, offer a resolution (HJ 14) to the House State Administration Committee that will mandate the creation of an interim study to evaluate techniques in place for eyewitness identifications of criminal suspects.

Monday morning will see the introduction of SB 262, which will codify Montana’s acceptance of the CSKT water rights settlement. Given the convergence of the conspiracy right and racist right, united in opposition to the treaty, the hearing should be quite a spectacle.



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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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    • Ted Rall’s comments accompanying the cartoon. And he’s right. A religious wacko is a religious wacko. Nothing more, nothing less. They do NOT deserve any respect. mr. giantefart is an idiot who’s trying to remake Montana into his own wackjob religious image. Just ain’t gonna happen without a fight.

      “From vaccinations against measles to some Muslims’ assertion that no one should draw Mohammed, we are constantly being told that we should respect religion. But why should we respect or accommodate beliefs with which we disagree?”
      Ted Rall

  • Poor, poor pathetic ms. Jennifer fiddler! She forgot a basic rule of aerodynamics. The Wenatchee Woman for GOT, or probably never understood since she’s a outta stater, that bullsh*t don’t fly in Montana! Now matter HOW you shape it, mold it, or fold it! You can give it wings, a tail, and your blessing, and even say it smells REAL nice to you! But Montanans know bullsh*t when they SEE it, and this crazy woman looks even crazier for insisting that it will fly! Sad, so sad. Pathetic really.
    A must read from the GF Spitoon this a.m. And that sound you hear in the background is poor crazy ms. fiddler on the roof flinging more poo in the hopes that it will stay in the air! PLOP!

    Transferring land to state would be folly

    ” The 2015 state Legislature has had no shortage of boondoggles.

    One of the worst is a legislative push by Sen. Jennifer Fielder that at best is unconstitutional and fiscally reckless, and at worst would evict Montana families from our favorite hunting and fishing spots. Her proposal would force state ownership of 30 million acres of Montana’s national public land and force us to assume responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars in management costs. This isn’t Fielder’s idea alone. In the last two years, she has become a supporter and representative of the American Lands Council, a Utahbased organization pushing a scheme it euphemistically calls “Transfer of Public Lands Act” — a piece of legislation that would force Americans to give up their lands to the states. It’s not the first time it has been tried. The Transfer of Public Lands Act used to go by another name — the Sage Brush Rebellion Act. That bill was crafted by groups funded by the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil and the Wilks brothers. The common denominator here is these bills create conditions that strip Americans of their own lands by making it too costly to manage them at the state level.

    The current version was hatched by an extremist think-tank in D.C., then received a makeover in Utah, and is now being brought forward as a good idea for Montana. Regardless of how you slice it, it’s still a scheme meant to grow the riches of profiteers, corporations and the wealthy who are ready to buy up and exploit Montana’s land once the state acquires them, forcing the state to sell them off to remain financially solvent.

    Knowing that Montanans have no stomach for this bill, as shown by several bipartisan polls, Fielder is now trying to trick Montanans with political games, introducing a series of bills she hopes will make the transfer scheme go down more easily, all while trying to incrementally dismantle effective public land management. The first of these would prohibit the state from selling off any land transferred to Montana. Make no mistake — this is a political stunt. If Fielder were truly interested in not selling land, then she shouldn’t be putting the state in a situation where we’d even have to consider it.

    Up next, Fielder has plans to introduce a bill that requires the state to spend taxpayer money on an economic analysis of the transfer scheme. Utah has already spent $2 million a year on a study of its own. This study concluded that, in order for the idea to be economically feasible, Utah would have to tie its entire economy to the volatile oil and gas market, all while ejecting hunters and anglers out of their traditional hunting camps and fishing holes. These studies are a waste of time and money.

    We’ve been down this road before. Putting all our economic eggs in one basket is a sure-fire disaster. Right now, Montana’s economy is diverse, strong and getting stronger.

    Fielder spent the last 18 months with fellow members of the bipartisan Environmental Quality Council “studying” the public land transfer. Because the outcome wasn’t what she wanted, she is now proposing to drag out the issue even more — at taxpayers’ expense. It is folly to think that another 18 months will produce a different result.

    How long do we need to study a bad idea before we conclude it’s still just a bad idea?

    It’s time for her and her allies to put this outrageous idea to rest.”

    Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, and Rep. Ed Lieser, D-Whitefish, are both members of the Natural Resources Committee in the Montana House of Representatives. They also serve on the bipartisan Environmental Quality Council.

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