Capitolized is a twice-weekly digest that keeps an eye on the representatives you voted for (or against) with expert reporting, analysis and insight from the editors and reporters of Montana Free Press. Want to see Capitolized in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday? Sign up here.

January 27, 2023

A resolution containing lawmakers’ feedback on newly drawn state House and Senate districts is sailing through the legislative process ahead of a deadline next month. 

SJ 8, sponsored by Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, passed a preliminary vote in the House on party lines Friday afternoon. It fared the same in the Senate earlier this week. 

The resolution contains two distinct sections: The first reflects recommendations agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Redistricting, while the second features a list of Republican grievances with the new legislative maps. 

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission advanced the new House and Senate maps on 3-2 votes late last year, with nonpartisan chair Maylinn Smith breaking ties in favor of the commission’s two Democrats. The Legislature — despite occasional efforts to the contrary — has no constitutional authority to change the proposed district lines, but can provide recommendations to the DAC. It must pass and submit that feedback to the commission by Feb. 6. 

The most significant bipartisan recommendations would see lines redrawn to allow two incumbent lawmakers, Reps. Joe Read of Ronan and Paul Green of Hardin, both Republicans, to be able to run in approximations of their current districts when the new plan takes effect in the 2024 election cycle. Under the DAC-approved plan, residency requirements would prevent both representatives from running in the districts that most closely resemble their current ones.

The bipartisan recommendations also call to keep Broadwater and Musselshell counties whole, to keep Georgetown Lake with Granite and Powell counties, and to keep the proposed House District 84 wholly within Lewis and Clark County. 

Democratic redistricting commissioner Kendra Miller noted that accommodating the request for Read’s district, for example, would be easy enough. But she also said the Ronan lines the DAC propose follow the same lines as the map that’s been in effect since 2014 — Read just wants to move into a new district. Furthermore, she said, protecting incumbency is neither a discretionary nor mandatory criteria of the redistricting commission. 

“Read has been on the same side of that district line for 20 years, he was not carved out,” she said. 

The Republican recommendations in the resolution mirror frequent GOP criticisms of the proposed map — that even though the maps would yield considerable advantages for Republicans in an average election, the lines in urban areas like Missoula and Bozeman provide an unfair advantage to Democrats. 

That assertion is based on district boundaries that intermix predominantly Democratic urban areas with predominantly conservative exurban and rural areas, yielding competitive or blue-leaning districts. 

“We’ve all seen the map. And we know it,” House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, said on the floor Friday. “There are a few districts with a lot of fingers, so many fingers you might need a glove.” 

—Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Bill report

Senate Bill 30 and Senate Bill 31 both made key advancements Jan. 26, with the former passing its first Senate floor vote and the latter clearing the Senate State Administration Committee. Sponsored by Sen. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, the bills would formally repeal two laws already deemed unconstitutional and unenforceable by state courts: the 2007 Clean Campaign Act and the 2018 Ballot Interference Prevention Act.

House Bill 173, sponsored by Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, passed out of the House State Administration Committee Jan. 26. The bill requires that manufacturers of vote tabulating machines used in Montana elections certify that those machines don’t contain unauthorized modems, and applies criminal penalties if such a modem is discovered.

Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, was tabled in the Senate State Administration Committee this week. The bill would repeal changes to the ballot initiative process made in the 2021 Legislature that Molnar — and an odd-bedfellow assortment of backers including former Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson and conservative attorney Matthew Monforton — argued were unconstitutional. 

Senate Bill 135sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, passed a preliminary vote in the Senate Friday. The bill, part of a package of changes to how courts can issue injunctions and temporary restraining orders, would restrict courts from granting an injunction that preemptively blocks the Montana secretary of state from issuing an administrative rule. 

Alex Sakariassen and Arren Kimbel-Sannit

The count

Senate Bill 154, a statutory change sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, stipulating that the Constitution’s privacy protections do not extend to abortion access, passed through the Senate this week, but not without a handful of Republican defections. 


House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, objected on the floor Friday to the placement of a bill on this coming Monday’s House Judiciary Committee agenda, arguing that the bill was not scheduled with enough time for public notice under House rules. 

House Bill 303, sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, would allow health care practitioners, institutions and insurers to refuse to provide services — such as abortion — that violate their “conscience.” The bill was not scheduled to be heard on Monday until Friday afternoon. Decisions on when to hold bill hearings fall to the chair of a given committee. In the case of the House Judiciary Committee, that’s Regier.

On the floor Friday, Abbott called a point of order — a parliamentary move that identifies an alleged rule violation — noting a section in the House rules that encourages committees “to provide at least three legislative days’ notice to members of committees and the general public.”

While there are more or less three calendar days between now and Monday at 8:00 a.m., there are not three legislative days. Friday is the 20th legislative day; Monday is the 21st. 

This section of the rules is admittedly squishy — take the word “encouraged,” for example — and includes a line that says “a meeting may be held upon notice appropriate to the circumstances.”

But Abbott contends that such circumstances were not in play in this case. 

“Most of the people that have been around the body know that those circumstances are deadlines,” she said. “We’re at day 20 of the Legislature. There’s no reason to give the public so little notice.” 

The main issue, Abbott said, is that members of the public wishing to testify in writing or via Zoom must register to do so by 5 p.m. the legislative day before the hearing on a given bill. That gave would-be public commenters only a few hours to register to testify on HB 303 before the close of business Friday. 

On the floor, House Speaker (and Amy Regier’s brother) Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, ruled that the decision to schedule the bill hearing for Monday was appropriate. Abbott disagreed with that ruling, prompting a vote. All Democrats and a handful of Republicans voted against Regier’s ruling, but ultimately to no avail. His decision was upheld 60-39. 

—Arren Kimbel-Sannnit


Credit: Arren Kimbel-Sannit Credit: Arren Kimbel-Sannit / Montana Free Press

Two versions of the State of the State bingo cards that lawmakers filled out during Gov. Greg Gianforte’s biennial policy address this week.

heard in the halls

“A victim on so many fronts. And to be penalized, on top of that. No, you can’t do that to someone in that situation.” 

Sen. Terry Vermeire, R-Anaconda, explaining his vote against Senate Bill 154, which would stipulate in statute that the Constitution’s privacy protections do not extend to abortion access. Vermeire said any restrictions on abortion need to include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. The bill passed 28-21 in the Senate this week.

On Background

Redistricting committee recommends tweaks to proposed legislative mapsMore detail on the genesis of the resolution containing feedback on redistricting that lawmakers are pushing. (Helena Independent Record)

Rules of the Montana House of Representatives

Abortion privacy bill clears major vote on Senate floorSee for more detail on the Senate floor vote on Sen. Keith Regier’s privacy bill (MTFP).

*Some links may require a subscription. Subscribe!