One week ago today, the 2017 session of the Montana Legislature drew to a close. Legislators quickly left town, and staff began putting the House and Senate chambers into mothballs. Barring a special session because of a downturn in the economy, the legislature won’t return until January 2019. For us, it’s a time to celebrate. We only sleep well when the legislature is not in session. Last week, we talked about the bad bills we killed and the frustration with having our locker room privacy bill killed by four misguided Republicans. This week we’ll discuss the bills that we supported.
As I’ve said before, we operate in four main areas of social policy: life, marriage and family, religious freedom and school choice. Under the heading of life, we had four main bills, and the first three dealt with abortion. Senate Bill 282 would have banned abortion after 24 weeks, the medially accepted age of viability. A similar bill, Senate Bill 329, would have banned all abortions after 19 weeks, the age at which a fetus can feel pain. Both were good bills. Both passed both houses of the legislature, and both will most likely be vetoed by the Governor. As we said before, elections have consequences, and the consequence of having a pro-abortion governor is that pro-life bills get vetoed. The third anti-abortion bill was House Bill 595, also known as the Personhood Amendment. It had majority support in both houses, but required a supermajority vote since it seeks to amend the Constitution. In the end, it fell 12 votes short of the required 100 votes necessary to pass. The final life bill was a bill to outlaw doctor-prescribed suicide. As in previous sessions, the bill failed to pass, so the issue remains in limbo.
On the religious freedom front, the legislature passed a resolution condemning the American Bar Association’s proposed Rule 4.8(g). As you may recall, this rule if adopted by the Montana Supreme Court, would allow lawyers to face a reprimand and possible disbarment, if they speak out about policies involving sexual orientation or gender identity. Basically, it’s an attorney gag rule, designed to stop speech deemed to be politically incorrect. During a public comment period, the court received over 500 letters from citizens, attorneys, judges and legislators, and over 95% of them opposed the rule. Even a subcommittee of the Bar Association itself said the rule violated the free speech provisions of the Constitution. It seems that everywhere we turn, from Washington, D.C., to Berkeley, California, to Helena, Montana, religious freedom and free speech are under attack. The Court will decide soon whether or not to adopt this rule, and we hope they take the overwhelming public opposition into consideration.
And finally, on the school choice front, we had two bills: one to create public charter schools, the other to create education savings accounts for children with special needs. The charter school bill was hijacked by liberals and had to be killed, and the ESA bill failed to make it out of committee. The legislature seems to be waiting for the results of a pending school choice lawsuit. If the decision goes our way, and we get the right governor, school choice will come in like a flood. But all that will have to wait for the next legislative session, two years from now.