The first couple of weeks at the Montana Legislature tend to be mellow: organizational meetings, housekeeping bills and sung praises of bipartisanship.
In the third week, the merde hits the fan. There are hundreds of bills making their way to committees with some already being heard on the senate and house floors. It’s hardly an exhaustive list, but here are a few that caught my eye. Some are forward-thinking, some are common sense and some are real stinkers. Today, I’ll do the good ones — tomorrow, the bad. Remember, support and opposition to legislation can be filed right up to the final vote on the floor.
I’ve put some contact information at the bottom of this post: organizations pushing progressive legislation, and how to access bills and committee members. Personal contact is the best, at a hearing or in the halls, but calls, emails and letters also work.
HR 2 (Rep. Andrea Olson, D-Missoula) “to urge our federal representatives to support a constitutional amendment saying that corporations do not have human rights under the U.S. Constitution and that money is not to be construed as protected speech.” It was heard last week in committee but hasn’t been voted on so you can still weigh in. It’s in the State Administration Committee in the Montana House. (There were about a dozen proponents at the hearing and one opponent. Guess who? Americans for Prosperity lobbyist David Herbst.)
HB 241 (Rep. Olsen) “a public utility shall develop a plan that outlines options, timelines, and challenges for procuring 100% of the utility’s retail sales of energy in Montana from renewable resources.” Also heard in committee but not yet voted on. It’s in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee.
HB 314 (Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman) “the (Public Service) commission may require a utility to file an application for a general rate case or some part of a general rate case, as determined by the commission.” This bill would basically bring frequency and transparency to what rates a utility can charge consumers. Northwestern Energy opposes this bill, which should give some indication as to the bill’s purpose. Read the complete language of the bill, also in House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations. It was scheduled to be heard in committee today.
HB 384 (Rep. Woods) “An act creating the offense of assault on a member of the press; and providing a penalty.” I call this the Greg Gianforte Bill but in the current climate of “fake news” and “enemy of the people,” it is extremely apropos. A hearing has not been set but it will be in House Judiciary.
HB 193 (Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena) “Revising the regulation and taxation of large emission sources in Montana…” This is a carbon tax bill with a lot more language to it. Read the entire bill at the link beginning this paragraph. The hearing was last week in House Taxation but the vote to move to the floor or table will probably occur this week so there’s still time to weigh in. (Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, also has a carbon tax bill, SB 189. There will be a hearing Thursday, Feb. 7, in Senate Energy and Telecommunications at 3 p.m. in Room 317.)
HB 345 (Rep. Dunwell) “Providing a stepped increase in the minimum wage to a living wage…” It will be heard in House Business & Labor Committee, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 8:30 a.m., Room 172.
A quick disclaimer: I’m the director at Montana Progressive Democrats so I’ll be posting many bills from the Montana Legislative Progressive Caucus. There are other bills worth noting, however, for example:
At noon last Wednesday in Montana’s Capitol, the rotunda resounded with Native drums and song. Tribal members from our state’s seven Indian reservations (and the Little Shell Tribe) gathered to bring attention to murdered and missing Indigenous women — a tragedy of epidemic proportions throughout Montana and the Americas. Families then told their stories. It was a powerful and somber event.
Two other bills crucial to those living on the Fort Peck Reservation would add oversight and safety features to the Keystone XL Pipeline that crosses the Missouri River upstream from the reservation’s new water treatment plant. I guess the Assiniboine and Sioux don’t want to drink oily water. SB 97 and HB 271 are still in their respective committees.
There are many other bills in the hopper that deserve comment and these are a few of the organizations I go to for information:
Here’s a link to the Montana Environmental Information Center on the energy and environmental bills it’s tracking. (Warning: any energy bill sponsored by Billings Republican oil-and-gas guy Sen. Tom Richmond deserves to die.)
Montana Conservation Voters also has a site focused on conservation bills, here.
For social justice issues, Montana Human Rights Network has action alerts. You can sign up here.
There’s a new group formed in Southwestern Montana (acronym SWMT) that’s worth following. Here’s their Facebook page.
UPDATE: Southeastern Montana Democrats have a newsletter alert page, too. It’s here. (Thanks, Hannah Nash.)
There’s a ton of other organizations and bills. Please, gentle reader, your additions are welcome in the comment section.
Stay involved. You can make a difference. More important bills to follow in future posts.