Montana Public Radio

Race Is Taboo In Montana House Debate Over 'Sanctuary Cities'

Feb 2, 2021

Talk about race or racism isn’t allowed as Montana lawmakers debate a bill that would ban so-called "sanctuary cities." That ruling came for a second time in the statehouse Tuesday as the House advanced the policy.

Lawmakers continue to spar over the rules for how they can or can’t debate House Bill 200.

The bill would penalize local governments that block local law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants sought by federal authorities. There are no sanctuary cities in Montana right now. 

When the bill was in committee last week, Republican Rep. Barry Usher shut down testimony from a bill opponent who said the bill could lead to racial profiling. Usher, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the testimony was off topic.

He made the same objection Tuesday on the House floor when a similar argument was made.

"This bill is not about racism. It’s not about racial profiling. This bill is about sanctuary cities."

Republican Rep. Derek Skees, who oversaw the floor debate, agreed. Skees interrupted Rep. Ed Stafman, a Democrat and a rabbi, for the same reason when Staffman spoke about the Holocuast during the debate. 

Democratic Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy said he’d never seen testimony shut down so much in his 10 sessions in the statehouse.

"You may censor me. You may shut down my colleagues on this aisle, Mr. Chairman. But this is a serious issue."

The House passed the bill on a party-line vote on second reading.