Montana House committee advances 16 bills during marathon session

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Posted at 1:54 PM, Feb 22, 2021

HELENA — In a marathon session that began at 7 a.m. and ended after 6 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on 20 bills and voted to advance 16 of them:

· House Bill 517, from Rep. Bill Mercer, R – Billings, providing stricter marijuana possession penalties for those younger than 21, passed 12-7
· House Bill 435, from Mercer, limiting liability for government agencies and health care providers in COVID-19 cases, passed 12-7
· House Bill 393, from Rep. Jane Gillette, R – Bozeman, requiring courts to consider other factors when amending a parenting plan, passed 18-1
· House Bill 459, from Rep. Dennis Lenz, R – Billings, creating certification requirements for child protection specialists investigating abuse and neglect cases, passed 14-5
· House Bill 503, from Lenz, allowing parents or guardians to request an emergency court hearing after a child has been removed from their home, passed 19-0
· House Bill 509, from Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, D – Missoula, increasing possible fines for unlawful robocalls, passed 19-0
· House Bill 451, from Rep. Rob Farris-Olsen, D – Helena, stating that time spent in a residential treatment facility should be counted as time served for people convicted of a crime, passed 19-0
· House Bill 427, from Rep. John Fuller, R – Whitefish, prohibiting health care providers from performing gender reassignment surgeries on transgender youth, passed 11-8
· House Bill 439, from Rep. Steven Galloway, R – Great Falls, stating courts should instruct county sheriffs to assist landlords in enforcing a writ of possession after a rental agreement is terminated, passed 12-7
· House Bill 502, from Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R – Great Falls, allowing attorneys or health care providers to assist in setting up an adoption, passed 12-7
· House Bill 436, from Rep. Scot Kerns, R – Great Falls, preventing local governments from limiting the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit in a public building, passed 12-7
· House Bill 478, from Rep. Derek Harvey, D – Butte, allowing the Montana Department of Justice to use a state special revenue fund to pay for DUI breath analysis as well as blood draws, passed 19-0
· House Bill 430, from Rep. Kathy Whitman, R – Missoula, limiting when a state or local government can put a moratorium on evictions or interfering with the collection of rent, passed 12-7
· House Bill 504, from Rep. Casey Knudsen, R – Malta, prohibiting the state from confiscating firearms and other weapons or limiting the operations of a business that sells firearms during a declared emergency, passed 12-7
· House Bill 463, from Rep. Jeremy Trebas, R – Great Falls, changing laws on when and how an institution can modify restrictions on a gift instrument or instrument of donor intent, passed 19-0
· House Bill 515, from Trebas, limiting when a child protection specialist or law enforcement officer can immediately remove a child from a home, passed 12-7

The committee did not take action on three of the bills it heard Monday:

· House Bill 449, from Rep. Frank Garner, R – Kalispell, creating a rebuttable presumption that a court should put someone on electronic monitoring as a condition of pretrial release in felony partner and family member assault cases
· House Bill 519, from Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R – Billings, requiring that courts give equal consideration to both parents when setting a parenting plan
· House Bill 499, from Trebas, defining “reasonable efforts” that Child and Family Services should take to avoid removing children from their home
· House Bill 501, from Trebas, stating that people cannot be charged with criminal trespassing for refusing to wear a mask or show proof of vaccination

This story has been updated. You can find more information about the Monday session below:

The Montana Legislature is fast approaching its halfway point, and lawmakers are now rushing to meet the first major deadline of the 67th Legislative Session.
On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee – one of the Legislature’s busiest committees – started its work at 7 a.m. They scheduled hearings for 20 bills, and they passed many of them through with executive action immediately afterward.

The glut of bills comes with the session’s transmittal deadline just over a week away. Any bill that doesn’t appropriate money or affect state revenue must pass through its first chamber by March 3, or it dies.

Rep. Barry Usher, a Republican from Billings, chairs the Judiciary Committee. He asked those testifying on the bills to keep their remarks to three minutes or shorter, and he asked committee members to limit their questions. He did not put a limit on the time for each hearing.

“It’s going to be a pretty tight day,” he said. “I’m going to try and give every hearing a fair hearing.”

Montana House committee hears, advances 13 bills in marathon early session

The longest testimony Monday was on House Bill 427, sponsored by Republican Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish. That bill, which would prohibit health care providers from performing gender reassignment surgeries on transgender youth, was a narrower version of Fuller’s House Bill 113, which was defeated on the House floor last month. The committee advanced it on an 11-8 vote.

HB 113 would have prohibited a wider range of procedures for gender dysphoria, including administering puberty-blocking drugs or sex hormones. Supporters of HB 427 said they revised this bill to focus only on procedures with permanent effects.

“Our concern with this bill remains the same as it was with Rep. Fuller’s original bill: We don’t believe that it’s right to do irreversible surgeries or procedures on minors,” said Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation.

But opponents of HB 427 said they still considered it an unnecessary obstacle to transgender youth getting the care they need. Dr. Erin Grantham, a pediatric urology specialist at Billings Clinic, said doctors in Montana rarely perform those types of surgeries for gender dysphoria in someone under 18 – but they do use them to treat other medical issues.

“The incentive to litigate makes it professionally unsafe for us to do medically necessary surgeries in Montana, surgeries which have nothing to do with gender identity,” said Grantham.

After a hearing of about one hour, the committee didn’t take immediate executive action on HB 427, as Rep. Jane Gillette, a Republican from Bozeman, had asked for a possible amendment. However, later in the day, Usher said there would be no amendments, and the committee voted on the bill as it is.

The committee also heard and passed 12 other bills before adjourning at 1 p.m. to go to the House floor session. They were expected to hear another 6 after 3 p.m.

Usher said during the meeting that he’s been trying to move bills through the Judiciary Committee quickly all session, knowing a backlog like this could arise.

“A lot of people for the last two months have been questioning how I’ve been doing it, but this is what I’ve been trying to prepare for,” he said. “I knew it was going to happen.”