Abortion legislation, Gianforte’s adoption credit bill, advance in Senate

By: - April 11, 2023 6:59 pm
The Montana state Capitol in Helena on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session on Jan. 2, 2023.

The Montana state Capitol in Helena on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session on Jan. 2, 2023. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed adoption tax credit passed the first hurdle on the Senate floor on Tuesday, along with two House abortion bills and a bill protecting against purported discrimination in the real estate industry.

The adoption tax credit proposed in House Bill 225 would provide a $7,500 state income tax credit for parents who adopt children from the state foster care system and $5,000 for all qualifying adoptions. The credit would apply retroactively to all adoptions on or after July 1, 2022, and is effective through the end of 2031.

Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, said in opposition to the bill that a Title IV-E subsidy is already given to families who adopt children in the state, and pays up to $2,000 of out-of-pocket costs, but those who qualify for the subsidy would not qualify for the new tax credit. Kids with emotional and/or physical disabilities, minority children, kids over age 6, and kinship adoptions where a family member adopts a child would not apply, she said.

“There are so many kids out there who deserve a loving family, and this bill doesn’t support them,” she said. “This bill supports wealthy families who are already choosing to adopt certain types of infants. Most of them, frankly, are likely not even going to be Montana kids.”

Boldman said the $5,000 was going to go to private adoption agencies to subsidize international travel for international adoptions.

Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, who carried the bill sponsored by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, said he hoped Boldman would change her vote.

“If it benefits one child, that’s enough for me,” Hertz said. “We have kids who are not in the foster care system who need help. Their families need help in order to get these kids to get into a permanent home.”

The bill passed 30-20 with bipartisan support and opposition.

Two abortion bills also passed the Senate on second reading — a bill from Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, to define fetal viability at 24 weeks and a bill from Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, that would put in statute an amended version of LR-131, which Montana voters rejected last fall.

Abortions are protected in Montana until the fetus is viable, meaning it could survive outside the womb, under the 1999 state Supreme Court decision Armstrong vs. State.

Sheldon-Galloway’s House Bill 575 was amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee to add a requirement medical practitioners perform and keep record of an ultrasound. The bill also includes a presumption of viability, meaning if the medical professional is unsure if the fetus is viable, it legally would be considered viable.

Sen. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, said that the bill would add unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy, especially during what may be a difficult time for a family. Dr. Timothy Mitchell, an OB/GYN, said in opposition to the bill in committee that less than 1% of abortions happen after 20 weeks, and that most of these pregnancies are wanted, but may experience complications like severe birth defects.

Dunwell spoke about her own experience in pregnancy and remembered contemplating the path forward with her husband after being told their son may be born with a developmental disability.

“It’s a personal decision, not a government decision,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, said, “Every once in a while, in this place of ours here, the duplicity of our actions smacks me upside the head, and today is one of those days.”

Flowers said that many folks who would vote for the bill voted against funding for Medicaid developmental disability waivers in Senate Finance and Claims. He said the waiting list for disability waivers is huge and that HB575 would only bring more disabled persons into the world.

“I think we need to also consider that we have to assist families and those folks as they arrive into our world,” he said.

Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, responded to Flowers, “I take great exception – exceptional exception – to the concept of disabled children or disabled unborn children are not deserving of being brought into this world.”

Sen. Daniel Emrich, R-Great Falls, who carried the bill in the Senate, said there are many disabled people who value their life.

“As a society, our responsibility is to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Emrich said.

The bill passed 30-20, with four Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

House Bill 625 from Seekins-Crowe is the legislature’s attempt to codify LR-131, the “Born Alive” ballot initiative that failed last fall, which would have required doctors to save any infant born alive after an abortion later in pregnancy.

The new language says parents or guardians can turn down medical treatment under certain circumstances when a baby is not expected to survive, a major critique from the movement against LR-131 last fall.

“Every physician medical provider has taken the oath to do no harm,” said Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, who carried the bill in the Senate. “This bill holds medical providers accountable to that oath by requiring them to provide life-saving care to a born alive infant as they would provide to the mother.”

Sen. Susan Webber, D-Browning, said the bill, no matter how it’s packaged, is still an attack on the freedom of women to control their bodies.

Sen. Denise Hayman, D-Bozeman, listed opponents to LR-131, which included the Montana Medical Association, Montana Primary Care Association, the Montana chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, and the Montana Nurses Association.

“Anti-abortion activists are trying to enact by statute what Montanans already rejected through voting,” she said.

House Bill 443, which is written to prohibit discrimination based on freedom of speech in the real estate industry, was drafted after a Missoula pastor and realtor was cited for an ethics complaint with the National Association of Realtors that accused him of anti-LGBTQ hate speech. His attorney said the organization was pushing “anti-Christian bigotry.”

Sen. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, said this was a “freedom” bill. Fuller said there are professional organizations looking to promote “an agenda” that violates free exercise of people’s beliefs.

“What this bill does is it protects those freedoms,” Fuller said.

Sen. Barry Usher, R-Billings, said the pastor’s statements had nothing to do with their real estate practice and the Real Estate Organization went too far.

Sen. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, said it is a private organization that can establish its own code of ethics.

“Even the legislature has decorum rules,” Olsen said.

The bill passed 34-16.

All bills will need to pass third reading before advancing.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.