HELENA – From abolishing the death penalty to allowing online voter registration, the 2019 Montana Legislature is saying “no” to plenty of ideas so far this session.
At their halfway point, lawmakers have ditched nearly 250 bills, leaving them to die in committee or defeating them on the House or Senate floor.
Many of these bills were killed on partisan votes, with majority Republicans doing the dirty work. That was the case with the death-penalty bill, which failed on an 11-8 vote in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20.
That same committee also dealt fatal, partisan blows to a bill that would outlaw discrimination against anyone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and one that would have created a new fund to help poor Montanans get legal help in civil disputes.
Yet some died on bipartisan votes, such as the unanimous vote by the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee on Feb. 20 to table House Bill 438, the measure from Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, to deregulate electric utilities (again) in Montana.
Other notable bills that appear to be dead at the Legislature:
Marijuana study: The Senate Judiciary Committee tabled Senate Joint Resolution 11, which would have had a legislative committee study the effects of legalizing marijuana, in anticipation of a possible ballot measure next year to legalize the drug for recreational use in Montana.
Online voter registration: Republicans on the House State Administration Committee killed this proposal the day after it was heard, last week.
Raw milk: Bills to allow the sale or distribution of raw milk appear to be dead, either tabled in committee or voted down on the House floor.
Family leave: A bill from Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, to set up a program to finance six weeks of paid family leave for most Montana workers was killed by the House Business and Labor Committee on Feb. 15.
Tax-increase supermajority: The Senate Taxation Committee has tabled House Bill 148, which would require at least a two-thirds majority of each house of the Legislature to approve any new or increased tax. The bill from Rep. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus, had been approved by the House in early February.
Country of origin labels: A bill requiring retailers to place country-of-origin “placards” for beef and pork sold in Montana was tabled by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Feb. 19.
Assaulting the media: A bill creating the crime of assaulting a member of the news media was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee two days after its first hearing in February.
Abolishing compulsory education: House Bill 303, which would eliminate compulsory enrollment in school for children, died in the House Education Committee.
Car-insurance liability limit changes: A bill that would have increased the minimum liability amounts for vehicle insurance coverage in Montana died in the House Business and Labor Committee.
Rights of the accused: The Senate Judiciary Committee killed a pair of bills requiring more protections for those accused, or convicted, in criminal cases. One bill would have made it more difficult to use “incentivized witnesses” to testify against someone, and another would have more clearly defined how convicts can exonerate themselves with post-conviction petitions.
While scores of bills have died so far this session, more than 700 bills remain alive – and, a few more will certainly be introduced, between now and the final day, which is scheduled for May 1.