MTPR

Rules Changes For Sexual Harassment, Legal Notes Pass First House Vote

Feb 5, 2019

The Montana House gave initial approval Tuesday to an amended sexual harassment policy for the Legislature. The policy is in a package of rules that also includes a controversial plan to remove notices when proposed legislation might violate the state constitution.

Democrats protested, but ultimately voted alongside Republicans to approve new rules for their conduct in the Legislature.

Representative Kim Abbott, a Helena Democrat, says through the process of creating new guidelines on harassment and discrimination, Republicans amended out the list protected classes covered by the policy, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

"I’m sad that we made it weaker, I think. And I’m sad that we offered less protection to people in this building. But I do think that we need this process in place," Abbot says.

Republicans say removing the specific list of people the policy protects makes the guidelines broader and more inclusive.

Republicans also pushed forward a rule change that removes the requirement for proposed legislation to include publicly posted legal notes outlining any potential constitutional conflicts.

Kalispell Republican Rep. Derek Skees says a bill can change after it has received one of these legal notes. He’s says he’s worried a bill could get criticized for a legal note that’s not up to date.

"The complication is that note is forever with that bill and it is forever on the front line of anybody that does research on that bill," Skees says.

Democrats objected to this notion. They said that although these kind of legal notes are relatively rare, eliminating their public posting is a violation of government transparency.

The House approved the new rules on a 89-11 vote, with a group of Democrats objecting.

The rules will receive a final vote in the House Wednesday.