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Montana Senate committee advances gun-rights bill after debate over amendments

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 11:45 AM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 11:59:05-05

HELENA — A bill that would expand where and how people could carry firearms has cleared another state legislative committee, after an extensive discussion about proposed amendments.

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed House Bill 102 on a 7-4 vote Tuesday, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

HB 102, sponsored by Rep. Seth Berglee of Joliet, would make a number of changes to state gun laws. It would allow people to carry a concealed firearm without a permit in most places. Those with concealed weapons permits would be allowed to carry in some additional areas, including state and local government offices and restaurants or other places where alcohol is sold. The bill would also limit the Montana University System Board of Regents’ ability to regulate firearms on college campuses.

The committee approved one small amendment to the bill Tuesday, saying concealed weapons could be restricted in secure areas of law enforcement facilities.

However, after a series of votes, committee members did not approve a more extensive amendment, supported by Berglee. That would have made a number of changes, including allowing judges to prohibit concealed carry in certain areas of courthouses, letting campuses regulate guns at athletic and entertainment events, and removing the penalty for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit where alcohol is sold.

Sen. John Esp, a Republican from Big Timber, objected to the proposed change on bars and restaurants, and he wanted to introduce his own language to broaden the change on courthouses. He wanted those sections to be removed from the amendment for a separate vote. However, other Republicans on the committee opposed separating the issues.

Eventually, the committee voted down one effort to split the amendment, one attempt to add the entire amendment and one attempt to add only part of it.

During the debate, several senators said they did not feel it was clear exactly what they were voting on.

Sen. Theresa Manzella, a Republican from Hamilton, attempted to revive the amendment after it initially failed, saying she was concerned about giving up the changes that stakeholders had asked for.

“With the amendment that we killed, the county attorneys and colleges, as I understand it, were in support of that,” she said. “I’m afraid the bill, without that amendment, will not get the support it deserves.”

Democrats on the committee voted against all proposed amendments Tuesday. Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula said the issues being brought up now should have been addressed earlier in the process, and that the number of groups that asked for changes was an indication the bill as a whole should not move forward.

“Even though there may be some rationale for some of them to be excluded, if everyone wants out of it, then the whole bill should die,” she said.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote.