Senate votes down ‘child protection’ bills; firearms ‘discrimination’ bill blasted to floor

Measure to classify e-bikes as non-motorized bikes fails on third reading

By: - February 27, 2023 6:49 pm
Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, speaks in favor of one of two of her bills that eventually failed on second reading in the Senate on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023.

Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, speaks in favor of one of two of her bills that eventually failed on second reading in the Senate on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

The Senate and House will be busy this week considering whether to pass bills out of their respective chamber ahead of Friday’s transmittal deadline, when all general bills not dealing with money or proposed constitutional amendments must be sent to the other chamber.

Committees in both chambers have been working overtime the past week to hear all introduced bills and to move them out of committee – considering whether to forward them to the floor or to table them.

The Senate on Monday considered 14 bills on second reading and another 14 on their third reading – the final vote needed to send a measure to the other chamber.

Fuller’s ‘firearm discrimination’ bill blasted out of committee

The Senate voted 27-23, with seven Republicans voting alongside Democrats in opposition, to blast Senate Bill 361 from Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, to the floor for consideration on second reading on Tuesday.

The bill was tabled in the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee earlier in the day. It says that credit services, investors, larger contractors and insurers that want to operate in Montana cannot “discriminate” against any people, businesses or organizations in any matter concerning the right to bear firearms.

They would all have to sign certificates of nondiscrimination under the measure, and if they violated that certificate, could be fined up to $5,000 for each violation and be subject to civil litigation.

Fuller said the measure “defends the Second Amendment,” while Noland said he would support the blast motion to have further discussion on the matter. Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, said the bill brought up serious concerns about how it would affect the state’s investment portfolio, as many business groups spoke in opposition to the bill in committee.

“In the name of liberty, I urge a green vote,” Fuller said.

The bill will be heard on second reading on Tuesday.

Two Manzella ‘child protection’ bills tabled

The Senate rejected two bills from Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, on second reading, then voted to indefinitely postpone both.

Senate Bill 249 would have made changes to treatment plans involving parents and guardians involved in child abuse and neglect cases. It proposed having a court put treatment plans in place in most circumstances if the state alleged that a parent or parents had abused or neglected their child.

It also would have required that a child protection specialist give prior notice that they would enter a parent’s home who is subject to a treatment plan, and barred that from occurring unless the parent gave consent or officials had obtained a court order, among other things. Manzella told the Senate her bill was about protecting the constitutional rights of parents and guardians.

Multiple senators spoke in opposition to the bill. 

Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, said opponents of the bill at its hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee included county attorneys and advocacy groups for domestic violence victims. She said the bill would eliminate necessary unannounced visits to homes by child protective services workers and would allow alleged abusers to install treatment plans for themselves and the children that would create additional obstacles for the other parent.

Sen. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, said he felt there were “some good things” in the bill but that he did not agree with the ability for parents or guardians to choose their own psychiatric counselors, substance-use evaluators and other professionals whom they would need to see under the plans.

Sen. Susan Webber, D-Browning, also protested the inability for CPS to do unannounced visits, saying child abuse often occurs outside of business hours and the need for those investigations to be both announced and during business hours was not tenable.

“If you’re an abuser, you’re not going to give your express consent to entry,” she said. “You will do all you can to keep it hidden, to make sure nobody knows what’s going on inside the household.”

The bill failed in a 20-30 vote and was indefinitely postponed.

Manzella’s second bill that was up for its second reading, Senate Bill 250, would have created the “Safety of the Child First Act.” 

She said the bill did a few major things – stops the removal of children and restrictions of parental rights from parents who do not face abuse allegations; stops a child from being reunified with a parent who has faced abuse allegations or become self-estranged; and provides some funding for child custody judges to undergo domestic violence training.

“There is a really ugly aspect of family law where a marriage is dissolved and parents use children as weapons against one another,” Manzella said.

Gross said one of her biggest issues with the bill was that it had a retroactivity clause, which she said would put a “huge” burden onto courts. She said the bill was not ready to be implemented because the federal law it was modeled after – Kayden’s Law – had not been passed in any other states and because Montana needed to find its own tailored approach.

Sen. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, agreed with Gross that she would not support the bill because of the retroactivity clause.

“I can’t support something taking … already settled cases and turning that upside down,” she said.

The bill failed on a 25-25 split vote, then was indefinitely postponed.

All Democrats voted against the bill, along with Republican Sens. Kenneth Bogner, Steve Fitzpatrick, Bruce Gillespie, Mike Lang, Wendy McKamey, Walt Sales, Daniel Salomon, Terry Vermeire and Jeffrey Welborn.

Hertz’s e-bike bill voted down on third reading

Senate Bill 342, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, was voted down on its third reading 23-27 Monday after passing second reading 27-23 on Friday.

The bill would have put e-bikes with 750-watt-or-less motors in the same classification as non-motorized bicycles. Hertz argued Friday that it would allow people more trail access as e-bikes gain popularity.

But opponents, including many trail and cycling groups, said that classifying e-bikes the same as other bicycles would create confusion for land managers, especially those that restrict motorized vehicles on trails.

Credit union penalty measure narrowly clears hurdle

Bigfork Republican Sen. Mark Noland’s Senate Bill 283 narrowly passed second reading in a 26-24 vote and will see a final vote on Tuesday. The bill would allow the Commissioner of Banking to assess a civil penalty against a credit union, its directors or officers if they participate in an “unsound practice” and subject them to civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day.

Noland gave the Senate an example, saying the measure could be aimed at credit unions acting in bad faith who give out bad loans and cause foreclosures. He said he thought the measure gave the commissioner another option aside from threatening to take the union’s license away and that the potential daily penalty would force the credit unions to fix violations quickly.

Though some opponents said the bill went too far in regulating credit unions beyond what already exists, Noland said he believed it addressed concerns he’d heard about in Kalispell involving bad loans and would stop bad actors moving forward.

Other floor action

Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, which would impose a $3,700 fee for people to file a ballot measure and bar citizens from running one similar to another that had been defeated in the past four years, passed third reading in a 33-17 vote. Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, joined all Democrats in opposing the measure.

Molnar’s Senate Bill 355 passed second reading in a 31-19 vote. The bill would force district court and Supreme Court justices who receive campaign money above the limit for campaign contributions to recuse themselves from cases involving those they received the money from.

From Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, Senate Bill 320, which requires landlords to reimburse someone for rental application fees if they are not placed into the rental, passed third reading in a 34-16 vote. Landlords would also be able to accept credit and criminal background checks provided by an applicant within the past six months.

Minority Leader Pat Flowers’ Senate Bill 281 bill limiting the number of nonresident licenses for antlerless deer tags passed second reading in a 49-1 vote, with McKamey the lone no vote. Flowers said the number of nonresident deer hunts under the licenses had nearly doubled over the last decade, leading to overcrowding on public lands and reduced numbers of deer and land access for resident hunters.

The Senate is tentatively scheduled to hear another 14 bills on second reading on Tuesday and 15 on third reading. It is expected to have a long floor session on Wednesday, followed by another that is expected to take up most of the day Thursday, a Senate GOP aide said Monday.

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.