In a scene reminiscent of an elementary school letting out for summer vacation, the Montana House of Representatives followed the Senate’s lead and adjourned yesterday morning for their much-anticipated transmittal break. Lobbyists actually led the way, knowing their chances of button-holing a legislator for a quick discussion on a bill were slim to none. In Montana, we know better than to get between dratted cows and a water hole, and these legislators were heading home as fast as their cars would carry them. By noon, the Capitol was silent. And it’s a good time for us to stop and assess the first half of the 2017 legislative session.
If you go to the legislative website, you’ll see hundreds of bills with a status that says, “missed deadline for general bill transmittal.” For all intents and purposes, those bills are dead. For us, it’s bittersweet. We did kill some bad bills, but we also lost a good one, as well. Our greatest relief was the defeat of House Bill 417, the bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under Montana Human Rights Law. Well not technically dead, it failed the blast motion by 17 votes, so its chances of being revived are almost nil. This is good news for people of faith who don’t want to be forced to participate in same-sex marriages.
On the flip side, a good bill that missed transmittal was the bill to ban physician-prescribed suicide that we talked about yesterday. It passed second reading by a narrow two-vote margin, then died on third reading on a tie. It’s sad, but we knew all along that the vote would be nip and tuck. We just have one bad bill remaining, and that’s House Bill 477, a bill to allow the State to regulate church-run treatment programs, even if the program accepts no state dollars. We’ve killed this bill in each of the past five sessions, and the plan is to kill it again right after transmittal.
On the plus side, nearly all of our good bills are still alive. These include pro-life bills, such as Senate Bill 282, a bill that would ban the abortion of viable babies after 24 weeks gestation; and Senate Bill 329, also known as the Montana Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This bill would ban the abortion of fetuses capable of feeling pain, which, according to scientific literature, is any time after 20 weeks. One wonders how anyone in their right mind could vote “no” on these bills, but Planned Parenthood will be out in force. The final pro-life bill will be a personhood amendment. It’s still in drafting, but will be introduced as soon as the legislature returns.
On the School Choice front, the House passed a bill to create public charter schools. Its chances are also good in the Senate, but the governor has promised the teachers’ union that he will veto it. We also have a bill to create Education Savings Accounts for children with special needs and another to raise the amount of the tax credit for donations to scholarship organizations. Both bills are hated by the teachers’ union, so they must be good.
All in all, it’s been a good session so far. We’ve cleared the first hurdles, but there’s still a long way to go. And I want to take a moment to thank you, our listeners, for heeding our calls to action. The sprint to the end of the session begins next week, and our team will be here until the last vote on the last day to keep you up-to-date and informed.