Montana Public Radio

The Session Week 3: MMIP, COVID-19 and Capitol Safety

Jan 18, 2021

The Session Week 3: MMIP, COVID-19 and Capitol Safety

As of Jan. 15, 296 bills have been introduced and none have been signed into law. This week, we're watching how lawmakers are proposing to change the role of public health officials, how the state is addressing missing Indigenous persons, and how the riot in D.C. could have ripple effects in Montana.

House Bill 144 brought by Representative Paul Fielder, a Republican out of Thompson Falls, would give law enforcement the discretion to decide whether or not to enforce public health orders. Currently, sheriffs and police officers would face a misdemeanor if they declined to do that. This bill would strike that part of the code.

Senate Bill 67 brought by Senator Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Great Falls, is nearly identical to HB144 but coming up through the Senate. It was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday and will likely head to the Senate floor this week. Law enforcement has voiced support for this bill and Montana Human Rights Network has opposed. Local public health leaders haven’t testified on the bill.

House Bill 145 carried by Representative Paul Fielder, a Republican out of Thompson Falls, proposes to change the power of local public health boards. Right now, those officials are allowed to issue orders to correct public health violations. That's part of what's giving local health officials authority during the pandemic. Fielder’s bill would change the language to say that local health boards can issue recommendations instead of orders.

House Bill 22 is a similar bill carried by Representative David Bedey, a Republican of Hamilton. It proposes to give more power to local elected officials and give the legislature more authority to intervene with a governor's emergency declaration.

Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Democrat from Crow Agency, is carrying a trio of bills related to missing and murdered people in Montana, with specific attention for the disproportionate number of Native Americans who are missing or murdered.

Stewart-Peregoy’s House Bill 98 would extend until 2023 the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and Loping In Native Communities grant program, which came from legislation in 2019. The task force's goal is to bring federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement together to address a lack of coordination between law enforcement, which was identified as one of the reasons cases of missing Indigenous people go unsolved. The State-Tribal Affairs Interim Committee requested this bill, which is a sign of bipartisan support.

HB98 is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Judiciary committee.

Peregoy is also carrying House Bill 36, which would establish and set aside $61,000 for a missing persons response team training grant program to provide more training for law enforcement.

HB36 is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Judiciary committee.

House Bill 35 would establish and set aside $85,000 for a missing persons review commission, separate from the MIP Task Force, to focus on big picture policy and trends.

HB35 is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Judiciary committee.

Stewart-Peregoy says she thinks these bills, especially those with an attached appropriation, have about a 50/50 chance of passing.

Reporters, lawmakers and members of the public are also tracking security protocols at the Montana Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection by pro-Trump exremists in Washington, D.C. The FBI in an internal bulletin has warned of armed protests at all state capitals across the country planned from Jan. 16 through at least Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

Gov. Greg Gianforte is deploying 150 Montana National Guard members to help with security duties in Washington D.C. for the upcoming presidential inauguration. The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office says it’s working with the Helena Police Department and Capitol security to monitor the Montana statehouse on Sunday and Wednesday. The sheriff’s office is also conferring with the FBI.

From last week:

Republican Rep. Seth Berglee’s House Bill 102 expanding concealed firearm carry opportunities passed out of the House and is now in the Senate.

Rep. John Fuller’s House Bill 112 and House Bill 113, two bills prohibiting hormone therapy and gender affirmation procedures for transgender and requiring student athletes to compete in the gender they were assigned at birth, didn’t see any action last week but might pop up again this week

A second lawmaker has tested positive for the coronavirus. Rep. Fiona Nave out of Columbus shared her diagnosis with the Legislative Leadership COVID-19 Response Panel. She say sshe hasn’t been in the capitol building during the session.