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Montana News
The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

Bill To Ban Sanctuary Cities Draws Heated Testimony

Montana Republican Rep. Kenneth Holmlund introduces House Bill 200 to the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 26, 2021.
Montana Republican Rep. Kenneth Holmlund introduces House Bill 200 to the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 26, 2021.

Montana Democrats say a Republican state House committee chair used a double standard during a hearing Tuesday to silence verbal testimony from bill opponents who brought up race when talking about a proposal to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

Montana Democrats say a Republican state House committee chair used a double standard during a hearing Tuesday to silence verbal testimony from bill opponents who brought up race when talking about a proposal to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

There aren’t currently any sanctuary cities in Montana. But under House Bill 200, local governments would be fined and miss out on state grants if they set policy blocking local law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants sought by federal immigration authorities.

Republican Rep. Kenneth Holmlund of Miles City said he doesn’t intend to discriminate with the proposal.

“Just to enforce law currently in code," he said.

But groups like the Montana League of Cities and Towns, Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Montana Catholic Conference say the bill would allow for certain people to be detained without due process.

Rev. Laura Jean Allen of Helena’s First Christian Church was beginning to read an open letter from nearly 70 faith leaders who oppose the bill when committee chair and Billings Republican Rep. Barry Usher forced her to stop.

“Most people of color in our country..." Allen said.

"Uh, this is not about race, so we need to stay on the bill," Usher said.

Rabbi Laurie Franklin with the Montana Association of Rabbis was similarly interrupted by Republican Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell after she connected House Bill 200 to white supremacy.

"Bigotry and hatred, plain and simple…” Franklin said.

“Point of order Mr. Chair. That comment’s entirely, nowhere in this bill and it shouldn’t be allowed in this committee," Skees said.

Democratic committee members objected to both interruptions, and said Usher didn’t halt earlier testimony from bill proponents who also brought up race.

Testifying virtually, Mark Limesand said the quality of life in his former Massachusetts city declined after the population started to include more immigrants “mostly from Mexico."

“The behavior in the whole neighborhood started to change very rapidly," he said.

After the hearing, Usher said in an interview that he didn’t halt Limesand’s “borderline” permissible testimony because he was sharing a personal experience about countries people were from, not race.

“My whole intent was to keep the rhetoric and the decorum so it did not get out of control," Usher said.

Missoula Democratic Rep. Danny Tenenbaum said he regretted not objecting to Limesand’s testimony while it was happening.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio