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Montana Capitol bulding in Helena, MT.
Shaylee Rager / UM Legislative News Service

The 2021 meeting of Montana lawmakers was defined by Republicans' ironclad majority in both chambers with the backing of the first GOP governor in 16 years and work that began during a pandemic. MTPR’s Shaylee Ragar and YPR’s Kevin Trevellyan have been in the halls and zoom meetings for the past 80 days. Here’s their breakdown of the final day of action.

Legislation limiting who can handle absentee ballots during election season cleared the Montana Legislature Tuesday largely along party lines.

An initially uncontroversial bill granting the secretary of state’s office rulemaking authority to boost election security was amended with the rule to prevent someone from turning in somebody else’s absentee ballot if they’re paid to do so.

Sponsor and Ulm Republican Rep. Wendy McKamey said the provision is a needed voting safeguard.

The Montana Supreme Court will proceed with a full bench to consider a challenge to a new law that allows the governor to appoint judges and justices to court vacancies.

An order filed Tuesday says Judge Matthew Wald from the 22nd judicial district in southeast Montana will substitute for Chief Justice Mike McGrath, who has recused himself after he urged Gov. Greg Gianforte not to sign the legislation.

The court did not order more extensive briefing or oral argument.

Montana lawmakers have accepted Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s changes to a bill preventing businesses and government agencies from denying people services or employment because of vaccination status. The president of the Montana Hospital Association remains worried the policy will upend provider safety procedures.

Moderna COVID vaccine in a small bottle

About 96% of Montanans who received their first COVID-19 vaccine are showing up for their second dose, according to the state health department. That’s slightly better than the national rate recently reported by federal health officials.

After an abnormal delay in voting and a committee rejection, Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Chris Abbott was confirmed by the Montana Senate Thursday. Abbott’s nomination was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee more than a month ago and didn’t see a vote until Thursday morning.

Montana death rates from alcohol, drugs, and suicide in Montana from 2000 to 2020.
American Communities Project /

Research into nearly 200,000 Montana death records from the last two decades has put hard numbers to anecdotes about suicides and drug- and alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic.

The report, by University of Montana School of Journalism Professor Lee Banville, is published on the American Communities Project’s website and shows that death rates significantly increased in 2020 in communities categorized as "Graying America," "Native American Lands" and "Working Class Country."

Parsing The Press: Recognizing And Combatting BS

Apr 29, 2021

We all think we know BS when we see it, but do we? University of Montana journalism professor Lee Banville is teaching a course on how to recognize and combat BS, something he'll talk about as this week's guest.

Listen now on Parsing the Press with Sally Mauk and Gwen Florio.

Representatives applaud as the Montana House of Representatives adjourns for the 2021 session, April 29, 2021.
Montana Public Access Network

The 67th session of the Montana Legislature has come to an end. In the final days, the body passed policies to regulate and tax marijuana sales, spend $2 billion in federal stimulus funds and budget state spending over the next two years. 

Automated shuttles arrive in Yellowstone, April 19, 2021.
Jacob Frank / National Park Service

Yellowstone National Park will begin a three-month-long pilot project testing automated shuttles in the park. The self-driving shuttle program will begin May 24th and will service the Canyon Village campground, visitor services, and adjoining visitor lodging area.