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  • Margie MacDonald

Buckle Up! Here Come the Attacks on Montana’s Constitution!


Lawmakers introduced seven bills attacking the Montana Constitution so far, with an additional 55 bill draft requests in the wings.

There could be a blizzard of such bills introduced in the next few weeks aiming to meet the April 3rd transmittal deadline for ballot referenda.


Background:

Montana's 1972 constitution was put together in a careful and measured way, over several months of deliberation and debate, by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

  • While the delegates may have had a party affiliation or history, they ran on nonpartisan ballots.

  • No elected officials were permitted to run or serve as delegates.

  • As a result, Montana’s 1972 constitution enshrines personal liberty and freedoms, civic responsibility, and virtues that include civility, honesty, transparency, human dignity, justice, and fairness.

Montanans consistently poll overwhelmingly in support of this document that binds us together and guides our public life. Despite this, anti-constitution rhetoric has been growing among Montana Republicans for a couple years.


Now we have a partisan super-majority trying to wield extreme ideology and graft it onto what is nationally recognized as an exemplary, ground-breaking constitution, crafted by ordinary citizens.


Where things stand:

  • A constitutional referendum bill requires 100 total votes from either chamber. The legislature has 150 members total.

  • There are 48 Democrats in both chambers combined, and it is fair to assume that they will vote no against weakening the constitution.

  • So, three Republicans voting no could stop any amendment from moving to the ballot box.


It’s now time to buckle up and get ready for a serious effort during the next

three weeks to block every one of these bad bills.


Good news -- one bill has already failed:

SB 372 (Emrich, R-Great Falls), the first bill aiming to amend the constitution, was tabled in Senate Judiciary before the transmittal break.

  • The bill would have had the Legislature appointing and confirming Supreme Court justices and district judges.

  • It’s hard to believe a bill can be so bad that it does not emerge from that extraordinary committee, but this one fell flat.

Bad news -- three bills will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 13 & 14:

HB 517 (Hopkins, R-Missoula) ostensibly directs the Board of Regents to obey Montana laws and constitution. However, the Regents already comply with these requirements. There is another more insidious purpose to the proposed amendment.

  • The bill is a veiled effort to subvert the independent authority of the Regents to govern the Montana University System.

  • It could subject the Regents to arbitrary, partisan, frequent, mercurial, inconsistent, and politicized legislative intervention in the system.

  • It would be ironic indeed, because it was gross mismanagement of higher education by the legislature that motivated Montanans in 1972 to rewrite the constitution.

  • Click here to read Mary Sheehy Moe’s presentation about the formation of the Board of Regents at the 50th anniversary of Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention.

HB 405 (Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls) would amend the constitution to allow the creation of a “citizens grand jury.”

  • Former Gov. Marc Racicot obliterates this idea in a scathing editorial found here.

  • Racicot writes: “It doesn't take long to visualize the inevitable chaos and spectacle that will attend the creation of a Byzantine citizens grand jury procedure; nor, but for a moment, to foresee the unlimited expense to the county within which the grand jury is impaneled.”

HB 372 (Fielder, R-Thompson Falls) purports to establish a “right to hunt” in the Montana constitution.

  • In fact, the bill rewrites the existing right to harvest fish and wild game animals already encoded in the current document with unknowable consequences.

  • It could undermine existing legal doctrines that have allowed Montana to steward, manage and harvest fish and game and restore a decimated population of big game animals.

  • It is sure to open the state to years of litigation.

  • This bill is set for hearing on Tuesday, Mar. 14.

You can send a note to members of the House Judiciary committee about all three of these bills by clicking HERE.


 

Affordable Housing: HB 574 Workforce Housing Trust Fund hearing today!

  • Montanans are reeling from out-of-control housing costs.

  • Workers must travel from nearby or not-so-nearby communities to fill the jobs in some bursting-at-the-seams communities (Missoula, Bozeman, Helena, Whitefish, Big Sky).

  • In addition, many older Montanans on fixed incomes and downsizing into the rental or smaller housing markets find themselves completely priced out of communities they have lived in for decades.

Rep. Kim Abbott’s (D-Helena) HB 574 (Establish workforce housing trust fund) would make a significant dent in the workforce housing problem.

  • The Montana Workforce Housing trust fund will responsibly incentivize the construction of housing that Montana families can afford, a solution desperately needed in Montana right now.

  • The bill provides immediate grants and low-interest loans to communities to build middle class housing as well as funding future investments in affordable housing.

Please send a comment in support of HB 574 to the House Business and Labor Committee.


 


HB 649 and HB 2 - Fully fund senior long-term care!


The House Appropriations Committee is the center of decision-making this week to advance critical provider rates needed to keep the doors open on Montana’s senior care.


HB 649 (Caferro D-Helena): a bill that directs the legislature to fully fund the provider rates recommended in the Guidehouse cost study.

  • This bill decisively passed second reading 65-35 last week and was referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • The bill will be heard this Thursday, March 16, at 3:00 pm.

Section B of HB 2 (the state’s budget bill): Section B covers long-term care expenditures.

  • During Thursday's hearing, the House Appropriations committee heard eloquent testimony from providers from across the state making the case for keeping our safety net for seniors in nursing homes, persons with disabilities in group homes, and youngsters receiving critical behavioral healthcare.

  • “Only this legislature can keep long term care from even more tragic nursing home closures across the state,” Big Sky 55+ lobbyist Margie MacDonald testified before the committee.

Please ask members of the House Appropriations Committee to fully fund long-term care. Encourage them to keep our senior long term care facilities doors open. Montana cannot afford to lose another 12 nursing homes in 2023. Send them a message here.


 


REMEMBER to attend our next virtual Legislative Town Hall, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" this Thursday, March 16. More details here.



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