The 2013 Montana Legislature officially adjourned April 24 after 87 days of lawmaking. And while the gavel fell on schedule, the past few months didn't always go smoothly.
There was banging on desks and a senator gone missing. The session even came close to going into overtime on April 24, when the budget debate temporarily caused gridlock. Gov. Steve Bullock has hinted at calling everyone back into a special session to hash out Medicaid expansion. But for now, work in Helena has wrapped up. Here's a closer look at some of the most notable debates of the past session.
HB 391, which requires "notarized written consent" from a parent if a minor seeks an abortion, passed both legislative chambers. But this fight ain't over. Bullock, who is staunchly pro-choice, let the bill become law, setting the stage for an imminent legal challenge.
Bullock responded to unprecedented amounts of dark money in Montana's 2012 electoral cycle by proposing a crack-down on its influence in state races. Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, carried the measure, and while critics questioned increases in campaign contribution limits, the bill does restrict anonymity in electoral advertising and requires more transparency from campaigns and third-party groups. In the end, the House Judiciary Committeechaired by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laureltabled SB 375, killing the bill.
Aid in dying
End of life care again became a hot-button issue in Helena as Kerns proposed imprisoning physicians for up to 10 years for prescribing life-ending medication to terminally ill patients. HB 505 passed the House in February. Missoula physician Eric Kress stepped up in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as the first Montana doctor to admit he'd written such prescriptions, but the bill stalled. It was blasted to the Senate floor in mid-April, then failed to pass second reading.
- photo by Cathrine L. Walters
Republicans launched another attack on same-day voter registration with a measure from Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, seeking to eliminate the practice. Opponents of the bill testified that an estimated 28,000 Montana voters have registered on Election Day since 2005. Yet the GOP's majority forced HB 30 past both the House and the Senate by early April. Bullock vetoed the bill April 22, but a separate referendum to close registration early passed both chambers. The issue now heads to voters on the 2014 ballot.
Taprooms v. taverns
Rep. Roger Hagan, R-Great Falls, worried craft beer fanatics statewide with a proposal to require brewers to either purchase a new state license or restrict taproom sales to less than 40 percent of total production. The Montana Tavern Association lobbied for the bill. Hagan himself claimed taprooms have become de facto bars. An online petition to stop HB 616 attracted 1,943 signatures, and when Big Sky Brewing testified in favor of the measure, scores called for a boycott of the brewery. HB 616 eventually died without ever leaving committee. A separate resolution to study the state's alcohol laws over the next two years also died on the House floor.
HB 247, sponsored by Highway Patrol Sgt. and Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, allowed law enforcement to issue permits for state residents to salvage dead deer, elk, moose or antelope from the side of the road. Proponents said the bill would save the state money in roadkill cleanup costs and generate food for the hungry. Opponents worried about foodborne illness. Everyone delivered at least one punch line before Bullock signed HB 247 into law April 3.
Efforts to expand Medicaid to roughly 70,000 impoverished, uninsured Montanans failedand failed in a spectacular fashion. SB 395, carried by Sen. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, narrowly passed the Senate, but failed in the House. A similar measure, HB 623, stalled in the House, even after lawmakers scrambled to amend it by utilizing state funds to help low-income Montanans purchase private health insurance. House Speaker Mark Blasdel motioned to send HB 623 back to committee and Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, accidentally voted in favor of the motion. Jacobson's vote afforded four Republicans time to change their minds and retract their support.
Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, sponsored HB 236, which would require private religious youth homes to obtain state licensure. Supporters included former Pinehaven Christian Children's Ranch residents, who allege that they were physically abused at the St. Ignatius ranch and that state oversight is necessary to ensure resident safety. Ranch Director Bob Larsson opposed the bill, as did the Montana Family Foundation, which argued that HB 236 treads on religious freedoms. Republican lawmakers killed the bill. "I would not be surprised to see a class-action lawsuit," Hill said.
Rep. Doc Moore, R-Missoula, successfully carried a bill that limits how much THCmarijuana's active ingredientindividuals can have in their systems while operating a motor vehicle. Whether HB 168 will make roads safer remains up for debate. The National Highway Safety Administration says it is "inadvisable to try and predict (marijuana) effects based on blood THC concentrations alone." Under the new law, drivers with five nanograms per milliliter of THC in their blood face a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
The Flathead Reservation's Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes advocated on behalf of HB 636, which called for legislative support for a final agreement that would forever quantify how much water the tribes are entitled to under 158-year-old treaty promises. Opponents, including reservation irrigators, worried the agreement, called a water rights compact, would leave them with insufficient water. The legislature tabled the bill. CSKT has threatened to take the issue to court.
Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, introduced SB 107 to remove the portion of the state's deviate sexual conduct code that classified homosexual sex as akin to bestiality. Social conservatives argued the bill would open the door to teaching gay sex in public schools. Proponents said the antiquated language fueled homophobia. Bullock signed the bill April 18 in front of a large crowd of LGBT supporters in the Capitol Rotunda, marking one of the session's high points.