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The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

The Session Week 2: Gender, Guns, COVID-19

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As of midday Jan. 8, 234 bills have been introduced and none have yet been signed into law. We're expecting to see policy priorities introduced this week that will set the tone for the rest of the 90 day session. This week, we're watching a couple of different bills about gender, guns and COVID-19.

House Bill 102, carried by Rep. Seth Berglee of Joliet (R-HD58), would align state law for carrying a concealed weapon closer to open carry, which is more permissive in Montana. For example, under the proposal you'd be able to conceal carry without a permit in most places in the state, and if you do have a permit, you’d be able to conceal carry in public places like state, government buildings, university campuses and banks. Berglee says his bill is an opportunity to increase self-defense rights and improve public safety. Opponents, including the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which represents many public university staff, and the Montana University System have spoken against the bill, raising concerns it would increase the risk factor for student suicide. Legislative staff have raised questions about the constitutionality of this bill.

After its first hearing, amendments for HB 102 were drafted Sunday and it is awaiting action by the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 112, carried by Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish (R-HD8), would require interscholastic athletes to participate under the sex that they're assigned birth. This would go against NCAA policy. Fuller says transgender athletes have an unfair physical advantage. Groups like the Montana American Civil Liberties Union say they’ll oppose the bill.Idaho passed similar legislation last year that a federal judge temporarily blocked months later.

HB 112 is scheduled for a hearing, starting at 8 a.m., in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning.

Rep. Fuller is also carrying House Bill 113, which would prevent health care professions from providing medical or surgical care to minors with gender dysphoria. That kind of care often takes the form of hormone treatment or gender reassignment surgery. A penalty of $500 to $50,000 could be assigned to providers who violate the terms of the bill. Fuller says he finds it wrong for young people to go through these types of medical procedures, some of which are irreversible, when they’re so young. Similar bills in other states have drawn opposition from LGBTQ advocates and medical providers, who say hormone therapy and surgery can be life-saving for some recipients also dealing with depression and anxiety related to gender dysphoria.

HB 113 is scheduled for a hearing, starting at 8 a.m., in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning.

Senate Bill 65, carried by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls (R-SD10), would offer health care providers, businesses, schools, churches and non-profits from civil lawsuits alleging exposure to COVID-19. Gov. Greg Gianforte asked for this bill as one of the two conditions for lifting the statewide mask mandate enacted by former Gov. Steve Bullock.

House Bill 121, carried by Rep. David Bedey of Hamilton (R-HD86), aims to limit the power of local public health authorities by requiring approval from local governments for any order related to public health emergencies, like COVID-19. It’s unclear if this bill will be heard as expected this week, as Bedey is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

House Bill 121 is scheduled for a hearing, starting 3 p.m., in the House Local Government Committee Thursday afternoon.