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'I’ve not seen anything quite that harsh:' Missoula lawmaker iced out of floor debate

Posted at 8:22 PM, Apr 21, 2023

House majority Republicans voted to affirm once again on Friday House Speaker Matt Regier’s decision not to recognize a Missoula representative after she made remarks he said do not meet expectations of decorum.

“I’m not silencing anybody. This is..there is a path forward. It’s in the rules to acknowledge recognition or not,” Regier said Friday.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, will not be recognized on the House floor to speak on any measure unless she issues an apology for remarks she made Tuesday debating a measure that restricts gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

“Then the only thing I will say, is if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there is an invocation, when you bow your head in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” she said Tuesday.

Zephyr says she is concerned about the policy’s impact on the mental health of transgender youth and that it could potentially increase suicides.

The House Rules Committee voted to uphold Regier's decision, a vote that the Democrat minority failed to overturn in a full house vote Thursday after Zephyr was ignored during floor session.

Former MTN political reporter Mike Dennison covered the Montana legislature for 30 years. He says he’s seen decorum rules enforced before, but not in this manner.

“I’ve not seen anything quite that harsh meted out before. As far as the rules being followed, they are being followed, but they're just being enforced in a rather draconian way in this situation,” Dennison said.

This all develops as legislation restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Montana advances and debates about their consequences heat up.

Director of the University of Montana School of Journalism Lee Banville said transgender rights debates have become a political deadlock.

“The actual issue is being warped into a straight political debate because it appears that for, at least some within the Republican party, there is an ability to really rally support around in opposition to anything that appears to be trans-friendly. And similarly, on the other side, there is an ability to rally support around. I mean, some of the most fervent protests we’ve seen in Helena this session is about these issues from supporters of trans rights,” Banville said.

The bipartisan Montana American Indian Caucus released a statement in support of historically marginalized groups and Zephyr, saying in part:

“We further believe the effort to silence Rep. Zephyr is consistent with an emerging pattern. This session, members of the Montana Freedom Caucus have aimed to create an environment that is hostile to all opposing views, using inflammatory rhetoric while weaponizing religion and law to create a Montana aligned with their ideology.”

Zephyr says she isn’t going to apologize and is concerned she is being targeted because she is transgender.

“I will punch in on every bill that I feel like I need to speak on, on behalf of my constituents, and if the speaker is willing to recognize me, I will speak on their behalf. My light is on,” she said.