John Adams/MTFP

Lawmakers on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives.

Five we followed: A look back at bills that caught our eye this session

Lawmakers requested more than 3,000 bills drafts for Montana’s 2019 legislative session. That’s the highest number of bill draft requests since the Legislature returned to biennial sessions in 1975. As this session winds down, we check back in on some previously highlighted bills to see what became of them.

 

Discrimination against LGBTQ remains legal

It remains legal under state law for people and businesses to deny housing, employment or services to individuals based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. That comes after the failure of House Bill 465, a proposed revision of the Montana Human Rights Act that would have included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

The bill never saw a floor vote, having been tabled by the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 27, five days after its first and only hearing.

The bill was opposed by some Christian groups, who said the bill discriminates against their religious views and creates a special, protected class of people.

Ordinances protecting LGBTQ communities from discrimination are on the books in most of Montana’s larger cities. Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, the sponsor of HB 465, said the bill would clear up the legal patchwork.

 

Lawmakers: dinosaur bones aren’t minerals

A bill clarifying that dinosaur bones are not minerals cruised through the Legislature, with only one vote against it over the course of six committee and floor votes. The owner of the single no vote, Sen. Frank Smith, D-Poplar, relinquished his opposition on third reading, and the bill was transmitted to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk with unanimous approval. Gov. Bullock signed the bill, House Bill 229, into law on April 16.

The bill’s clarification means that dinosaur fossils are the property of whoever owns the plot of land, not the mineral rights. That means if you dig up dinosaur bones on your property, they belong to you, not, say, the oil company, who has rights to pump on your land.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, was prompted by a disagreement over the ownership of the famous “Dueling Dinosaurs” find in Eastern Montana that has worked its way up to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Unanimous support for switchblades

Another bill to pass unanimously through the Legislature is a repeal of the state’s ban on switchblades.

Inspired by Broadway musicals featuring gangs of delinquent teens knife fighting to show tunes, many states passed switchblade bans in the 1950s, including a federal switchblade ban in 1958.

For decades, it has been illegal in Montana to carry a switchblade or keep one in a car, though collectors are allowed to own them so long as they are registered with the county sheriff.

Switchblades differ from other knives only in the mechanism for deploying the blade: a button.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, told the House Judiciary Committee that EMTs, firefighters and people with disabilities use spring-activated knives because they can be opened and closed with one hand.

House Bill 155 sailed through both houses and was signed into law by the governor on April 3. Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula, provided the sole nay vote against the repeal, but flipped on third reading in the House.

 

A return of tax incentives for filmmakers

The Legislature looks poised to resurrect a tax incentive for filmmakers that sunset in 2015. House Bill 293, sponsored by Rep. Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, is modeled on a similar program in Georgia, which has made that state one of the world’s top filming locations, generating $9.5 billion in economic returns in 2017.

Opponents say big bucks like that are a moonshot, and the Governor’s Office projects that the tax incentives will create a $20 million crater in the state budget every year.

HB 293 barely made it out of its first House Taxation Committee vote, and barely survived the Senate Taxation Committee as well. The bill proved popular on the House floor, passing 82-16, and later 82-18 after the Senate sent it back with amendments after a close vote in that chamber. The third reading in the House on the amended bill is scheduled for April 23.

According to the Montana Film Office, 35 films shot in Montana have been released since 2015. Some of these films are even good, such as the critically-acclaimed “Certain Women,” “The Revenant” and “Dark Money” (featuring Montana Free Press and the Montana Legislature). A recent Flathead Beacon cover story profiled the Outlaw Inn in Kalispell catering to big-ticket film shoots in years past.

 

No workers comp for volunteer firefighters

A bill requiring workers compensation to be provided to volunteer firefighters was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee on April 17. Passed by a nearly 3 to 1 ratio by the Senate in January, Senate Bill 29 languished, remaining unassigned to a House committee until April 10, when it was referred to Judiciary.

During the hearing, SB 29’s sponsor, Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said yearly workers comp policies only cost around $100 per person. No opponents spoke against the bill at the hearing, but opponents had previously said they were worried the new costs might bankrupt some rural fire departments.

According to the Helena Independent Record, the committee voted to table the bill by a 10-9 vote, with Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, joining the Democrats to oppose the motion.

Estimates put the number of firefighters without workers compensation benefits at around 2,000.

The governor signed a different bill, the Firefighter Protection Act, into law on April 19. That law makes it easier for firefighters to make workers’ compensation claims related to chronic diseases relevant to firefighting.


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