24-week abortion ban, charter schools and right-to-work fails again: House hustles to deadline

By: - March 1, 2023 8:02 pm

Majority Leader Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings, and Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, talk on the House floor on March 1, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

The house passed a 24-week abortion ban, money for charter schools, among dozens of other bills during the first leg of their day-long floor session on Wednesday.

Both chambers are doing all-day floor sessions in order to pass bills in the run up to the transmittal deadline on Friday, which requires bills without a fiscal note pass through at least one chamber of the legislature.

The House took action on more than 90 bills and considered several “blast” motions, or last ditch efforts to have tabled bills in committee be considered on the floor.

There was an effort to “blast” House Bill 448, a “right-to-work” bill that saw heavy opposition from unions and was tabled in committee last week.  The motion was supported by Rep. Caleb Hinkle, R-Belgrade, who brought a similar bill last session and was opposed by House Business and Labor Chairman Rep. Ed Buttrey, R- Great Falls. The bill ultimately failed 71-28.

Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, also attempted to blast her bill to codify the Armstrong vs. State decision which protects abortion rights in Montana in statute. The motion also failed, 30-69.

Legislation put forward from Majority Leader Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings, would establish and fund “community choice schools,” with the fiscal note outlining a loss of more than $400,000 per year to the general fund.

Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, said House Bill 562 would require spending taxpayer dollars with no accountability, while Rep. Sherry Essmann, R-Billings, said, let the competition begin.

The legal note attached to the bill said it may raise a potential constitutional question as it may conflict with the Board of Public Education and local board of trustees’ responsibilities of supervision. The note cited Montana Supreme Court decision Board of Public Education vs. Judge, which decided the legislature could not remove supervisory duties of the Board.

The bill passed second reading, the first hurdle in the House, 63-37.

Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway’s bill banning abortion after 24 weeks passed on second reading. When the Great Falls Republican spoke to the bill, she said that all viable children should be protected from abortion. House Bill 575 defines viability as presumed at 24 weeks.

Sheldon-Galloway sponsored similar legislation in the 2021 session that would ban abortions after 24 weeks, which was challenged in court after being signed into law, and was temporarily enjoined in August.

In opposition, Bishop said that this bill was targeting scenarios with wanted pregnancies and that viability can vary depending on the person. She said the government should not be involved in a personal decision someone makes in consultation with their doctor.

Stafman said that his daughter, a pediatric surgeon, in some cases has to deliver babies with severe diseases where they can only survive outside the womb for a few hours. He asked Sheldon-Galloway if those circumstances would get special consideration, to which she said that a baby is viable no matter their health condition.

The bill passed 67- 31.

Current and former law enforcement officers-turned-legislators gave emotional testimony in response to a proposed change to when pensions are able to be redeemed for highway patrol, sheriffs and game wardens’ and peace officers.

Rep. Derek Harvey, a firefighter and Democrat from Butte, proposed an amendment that ultimately failed that he said would take out the change to when benefits would be made available.

Rep. Neil Duram, R-Eureka, a Montana Highway Patrol retiree, said House Bill 569 as written would change the eligibility to receive retirement benefits to 20 years after turning 50 years old. He said someone who started on the job young may have to work longer before receiving benefits than someone else who may have started at the same time but was older.

Rep. Denise Baum, D-Billings, with 19 years experience with the Billings Police Department, said this is a high risk, stressful job and that this bill could hurt recruitment and retention. She said it was a “disgrace” that the state would hold off on giving benefits to those who served.

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, who leads the House Appropriations committee said the bill only restricts someone from redeeming their retirement benefits at age 50, saying that if someone retires at 40 and dies at 80, the state would be responsible for their retirement for 40 years. He said covering those years of retirement was a choice the state could make, but would need to fund.

Bill sponsor Rep. Terry Moore, R-Billings, said the bill was aimed at reducing the state’s liability and would make sure generational debt isn’t passed down to future generations.

The bill passed second reading 65-35.

A bill from House Speaker Matt Regier, R- Kalispell, would “prohibit censorship by social media platforms.” Regier said House Bill 770 was copied from a Texas bill , which would allow a banned social media user to sue the platform to be reinstated. The bill was challenged in court and could head to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to reporting from Politico.

This comes weeks after Montana’s Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines made national headlines being blocked by Twitter for a picture of him and his wife hunting. Daines was reinstated and recounted the story when he was on the floor last week.

The bill passed 68-32.

The House will reconvene at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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