Five to Follow: Week of March 25 at the Montana Legislature

HELENA — The Montana legislative session is coming up on its final month. This week lawmakers discuss arming teachers, delisting grizzly bears, listing e-cigarettes, requiring abortion doctors to offer ultrasounds, and green-lighting probationers and parolees for medical marijuana.

Requiring abortion providers to offer ultrasounds

Though the Montana Supreme Court firmly affirmed a woman’s right to abortion in the 1990s, anti-abortion-rights legislators continue to try to reduce the number of women who terminate their pregnancies. Senate Bill 100 would require abortion providers to inform women seeking abortions of the opportunity to view an ultrasound and “listen to the fetal heart tone of the unborn child, if audible.”

The proposed law isn’t as far-reaching as laws in other states requiring abortion providers to perform ultrasounds, or requiring patients to view them, but pro-choice advocates still oppose any barriers to abortion access. Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, said the bill’s purpose is “to harass doctors and medical clinics, with the effect to interfere with a woman making a constitutional protected right,” when the Senate first passed the bill on party lines.

SB 100 is sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, and will have its first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee at 8 a.m. on Monday, March 25, in Room 137.

Arming school employees to shoot school shooters

With fear of school shootings and inadequate funding to place law enforcement in rural schools, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, is pushing a bill that would allow school districts to appoint school employees as armed marshals. Skees says rural sheriff’s departments lack the funding necessary to put officers in schools, and House Bill 567 gives school districts the opportunity to cover those costs.

The bill is opposed by the Montana Police Protective Association, whose executive director, Jerry Williams, said last month that even with the training required by the bill, armed school employees are no replacement for professional law enforcement officers.

The bill would require the Montana Law Enforcement Academy to design a school marshall training program that Skees said would comprise 500 hours. School districts intending to employ marshals would be consulted on the curriculum, which the bill says would include “firearms training, first aid, defensive tactics, crowd control tactics, juvenile procedures, crisis intervention, and police human and community relations.”

HB 567 cleared the House earlier this month and has its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 28, in Room 303.



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Grizzly bill says “social tolerance” of affected Montanans running thin

Yellowstone National Park’s grizzlies woke up just in time for a House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee hearing on a resolution affirming the Legislature’s support for delisting the bears from the Endangered Species Act.

Senate Joint Resolution 6, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Libby, is a mostly symbolic gesture, given that grizzly listing is in the hands of the federal courts, which have reversed previous delistings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The most recent reversal was last year, when a federal judge in Missoula relisted the Yellowstone subpopulation of grizzlies on the eve of the first scheduled grizzly hunt in years. As SJ 6 reads, “the continued cycle of delisting and relisting creates a significant loss of social tolerance among Montanans who are adversely impacted by the continued expansion of grizzly bears.”

Conservationists say the grizzly bear population in the Lower 48 states has clawed its way back from the edge of extinction, and is still small enough that delisting would harm conservation efforts. Proponents of delisting argue the grizzly is a conservation success story, and that the grizzly bear population has grown to dangerous nuisance levels. Those proponents include the governors of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, who met last week to discuss holding a “grizzly summit” to address the issue.

The House committee meeting on SJ 6 is at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, in Room 172.

Bipartisan support for probationers and parolees to access medical marijuana

Three years after Montana voters resurrected the state’s medical marijuana program after a legislative repeal, lawmakers are now interested in reforming the law to allow access to medicine by probationers and parolees.

The majority view in the Legislature that medical marijuana is, in fact, medicine is the explanation House Bill 498’s sponsor, Jade Bahr, D-Billings, gave for the bill’s passage in the House earlier this month. Before the 2017 session, the Republican-controlled Legislature was more interested in repealing what some lawmakers saw as a dangerous legal drug market than in ensuring patients’ access to medicine.

Opponents of HB 498 continue to claim marijuana isn’t medicine, and is dangerous, saying users are at a higher risk of violence and mental illness. Republican support helped the bill pass the House 60-39. HB 498 is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 27, in Room 303.

No vaping indoors under changes to Montana Clean Indoor Air Act

When the Legislature passed the Clean Indoor Air Act banning indoor smoking in 2005, electronic cigarettes had yet to reach American shores. The vaping industry has since exploded into a multi-billion-dollar industry whose products are accessible in every grocery store and gas station. And there’s no state law that says you can’t vape inside.

Rep. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, wants to change that with a simple modification to the Clean Indoor Air Act to include “electronic smoking devices,” regardless of whether they contain nicotine.

In the absence of state law, local municipalities have taken to banning indoor vaping, with Gallatin County becoming the eleventh Montana county to do so in October.

Curdy’s bill, House Bill 653, has yet to see a floor or committee vote, and is scheduled for a House Business and Labor Committee hearing at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 27, in Room 172.