Join Montana Women At the Capitol March 8th

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Jeannette Rankin, Montana State Capitol Building (Photo credit: Janellie)

Please join Montana Women Vote for International Women’s Day at the Capitol, Friday March 8th, 9:30am – 3pm.

International Women Day is an opportunity to learn more about the legislative process, try your hand at citizen lobbying, and find out more about the issues and policies that impact women and families in the 2013 Legislative Session.

International Women’s Day 2013 Agenda:

  • 9:30am – Noon, Lobbying 101, and Lobbying 201: Whether this is your first time at the Capitol, or if you have been here before, Friday morning’s lobbying training will give you the tools you need to talk to your legislators about the issues you care about most. Old Livestock Building, next to the Capitol
  • Noon-1pm , Women’s Foundation “Status of Women Lunch.” Old Supreme Court Chambers, Room 303
  • 1:30 – 2:30pm, Friday Afternoon Issues Breakouts – Health and Reproductive Rights in the 2013 Session, Old Livestock Building, next to the Capitol – Keeping the “Public” in Public Education, Room TBD

Other optional International Women’s Day activities:

  • - Getting to Helena early? Join the Montana Women’s Lobby for a Women’s Issue Briefing: 8:30am at the Montana Historical Society
  • -Want to stay late? The Montana Women’s History Mural Committee is hosting a Reception for the Montana Women’s Mural at the Governor’s Residence: 4pm, 2 Carson St. Helena.

This event is free and open to everyone. MWV will help arrange carpools if possible.

For questions or to RSVP please contact Olivia Riutta at 317-1504 or olivia@montanawomenvote.org.

We hope to see you at International Women’s Day! And don’t forget to wear your purple!

In solidarity,

Olivia

Olivia Riutta Montana Women Vote (406) 317-1504, olivia@montanawomenvote.org

Montana Jobless Rate Low

Montana’s unemployment rate continues to fall- to 5.7%.

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unemployment (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

“Montana starts 2013 with a strong economy that has been adding jobs and gaining wages for over two years,” said Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy. “Although the national economy faces risks and uncertainty arising from federal tax and spending levels, I am confident that Montana’s economy will have the momentum and resilience to continue growth in the next year. Montana will continue to outperform the nation, with lower unemployment than the national average.”

Excellent news- and with Pam in charge, it’s probably not seen bottom yet.

Pride Foundation Scholar Helps Draft Montana Civil Unions Bill

Beth Burman Frazee, Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and Paul Vestal, and it is from Ellie’s swearing in ceremony during the 2011 Montana Legislature.

Pride Foundation supporters, Beth Burman Frazee, Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and scholar Paul Vestal at Hill’s swearing-in ceremony for legislators.

Paul Vestal received a scholarship from Pride Foundation last year to help him pursue a career as an attorney. His passion for civil rights issues made him a standout in the highly competitive process. And Paul is already giving back to the community who supported him by drafting a bill to allow civil unions for same-sex couples in Montana. The bill will be introduced during the upcoming Legislature in Helena.

A third year law student at the University of Montana, Paul enrolled in a legislative drafting class last fall. It was taught by David Aronofsky, former University of Montana legal counsel, Mike Halligan, former legislator turned director of the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, and John Bennion, who serves as counsel to the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

“I went in knowing what I wanted to do,” Paul said. “I decided to go the civil unions route due to our constitutional ban on marriage equality for same sex couples. Even though it may die, I feel something like this should be presented every session. If we are silent, nothing will happen.”

Paul’s good friend and Pride Foundation supporter, Representative Ellie Hill (D-Missoula), is co-sponsoring the bill, along with Pride Foundation Leadership Action Team member and first openly gay man to serve in the Legislature, Representative Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula).

“Equal access to civil unions was not pursued last legislative session, and it probably would not have been introduced this upcoming session, if not for the courage and academic fortitude of Pride Foundation scholar and Montana law student, Paul Vestal,” Hill said.

The Montana Legislature hasn’t seen a civil union bill come up since 2009. Paul is hopeful the “conservative angle” he tried to take in crafting the bill will help give this version a longer life than past efforts.

“It’s not to amend the marriage code,” he explained. “My rationale going into this was to create a new chapter rather than even touching marriage. I tried to stay away from associating it with marriage as much as possible. There’s a bigger tent for folks who support the rights associated with marriage but don’t want to change marriage.”

While this tactic may not please all activists in the movement, Paul says it’s not the liberals and the LGBTQ community that need convincing, it’s the conservatives.

“When we go at it as human rights or gay rights, it falls on deaf ears,” he said. “Opponents of equality know all the arguments at this point. I tried to address how the bill will be aligned with some of their own libertarian beliefs, such as keeping government out of people’s lives, the need for equal property rights, that you can transfer your property to your person. Equal protection is still a big part of it.”

Paul said he also hopes that legislators will see that the writing is on the wall in terms of marriage equality. Passing this bill could pre-empt future challenges, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court decides the so-called Defense of Marriage of Act (DOMA) or Proposition 8 court cases in ways that favor equal marriage rights. For example, Paul wonders what will happen when same sex couples in Missoula drive three hours to Spokane, Washington to get a marriage license. What will that mean for jointly owned property and paying taxes in Montana?

“I would ask [opponents], do you want to be like New Jersey and have equality come down from the court, or do you want to draft a Montana solution that would actually strengthen the ban more because it would give equal access without changing marriage.”

Paul will graduate this spring and hopes to stay in Missoula, where he will continue to be involved in nonprofits and politics, regardless of the type of law he decides to practice. He also is considering working as a lobbyist.

In One of His First Acts as Congressman, Daines Supports Unconstitutional DOMA

DainesToday, the country bid a not-so-fond farewell to the 112th Congress (including Denny Rehberg), and swore in the new 113th Congress with Steve Daines.

What was the first thing this shiny new Congress did?

Well, Daines, who ran on a “more jobs, less government” platform, cast one of his first votes in favor of the House continuing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which denies hundreds of benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Apparently when Daines said “more jobs” he meant “more jobs for lawyers defending blatantly unconstitutional archaic laws.”

DOMA is the Clinton-era law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. This law denies benefits to the same-sex partners of military members killed while fighting for our country. It also prohibits the federal government from recognizing bi-national same-sex couples in immigration cases, which has led to several high-profile deportations. It also refuses to acknowledge same-sex spouses in relation to Social Security survivor benefits.

This law is clearly unconstitutional, which is why in early 2011 the Obama administration’s Department of Justice announced they would no longer defend the law. Our illustrious House members though chose to pick up the torch of bigotry and continued to defend the law at the taxpayer’s expense. Thus far, Steve Daines, John Boehner and the Republicans in the House have spent more than $1.7 million defending this law.

The latest expenditure in support of DOMA was actually buried within the House of Representative rules that the new Congress approved today. Generally these rules simply lay out the process for how the House will run. To bury an appropriation inside this bill is an unprecedented abuse of the process.

This is just the latest example of the clear hypocrisy of Daines and his tea party colleagues advocating for smaller government except for when they don’t.

DOMA, ruled as unconstitutional ten different times in seven different cases, will face the US Supreme Court later this year.

 

Better Know a Legislator: Sen. Christine Kaufmann and Sen. Jeff Essmann

In today’s edition of “Better Know a Legislator” I’ll profile one of my favorite legislators, Sen. Christine Kaufmann (D-Helena), as well as one of my least favorite, Sen. Jeff Essmann (R-Billings).

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, SD 41

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Sen. Christine Kaufmann, is one of the few unabashed progressive champions in the Montana legislature. She constantly impresses me with her ability to think strategically, while maintaining her commitment to her values.

This year she’ll be beginning her second session representing Helena in the Senate. She previously also served in the Montana House. She is one of the first (and only current) openly gay women serving in the Montana legislature. I personally had hoped she would serve in leadership in the Senate, but unfortunately she did not seek one of these positions. Hopefully in 2015 she will seek a leadership positionSen. Kaufmann is arguably the progressive champion in the Montana Senate, a quick examination of her bill draft requests will show why. This year she is seeking to create an earned income tax credit, to revise the administration of oil and gas taxes , to increase the power of the state’s top political cop and to revise the so-called “castle doctrine” law. These are tough fights, and many of them are fights that (with the current makeup of the legislature) will not succeed. But Sen. Kaufmann understands the importance of beginning a discussion on these issues, because hopefully, that discussion will move political discourse in a more progressive direction.

When not serving as a legislator, Sen. Kaufmann works in the State Auditor’s office on health care issues for Montanans. She previously worked at (and was a founder of) the Montana Human Rights Network.

Sen. Jeff Essmann, SD 28

Sen. Jeff Essmann

I don’t want to take personal shots at legislators in these profiles, but I have to say Sen. Jeff Essmann is one of the most detestable people to ever be elected to office in Montana.

Essmann will serve as the Senate President in 2013–a position he acquired after staging a coup against the former Senate president Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo). Essmann and his fellow tea party extremists claimed that they were staging the coup because Peterson embarrassed them with his “Code of the West” bill from 2011. It’s worth noting that not only did Essmann vote for the Code of the West bill, but he also supported even more embarrassing bills that sought to legalize spear hunting, would give local sheriffs control over international terrorism investigations in their communities and he opposed a measure to remove the  unconstitutional law that criminalizes LGBT people in the state of Montana.

During his 2011 session, Essmann was also one of the leaders in the efforts to repeal the voter approved law allowing the use of medical cannabis in Montana. Montanafesto has covered his shady efforts on this front.

Essmann got his start in the Senate after Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger became part of Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s administration. He promptly trashed Bohlinger’s bipartisan record in that seat in order to become a partisan ideologue.

Essmann announced that he would run for governor in 2012. But after holding a bizarre conference call announcing his campaign, Essmann dropped out just a few weeks later, prompting some to suspect a scandal in his past.

Essmann will surely run an extreme Senate that will seek conflict over common ground when dealing with Governor-elect Bullock.

Limits on Understanding

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It was 9:30 at the Helena City Council meeting when the mayor slightly rolled his eyes as he tapped his gavel, signaling the close of the public hearing portion on final passage of the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance.

 

“What’s your pleasure,” he said to the council members.

 

The council took up four amendments proposed by the sponsor in a vain attempt to rescue her two years of campaigning and soulful work on this ordinance to make it as fair and inclusive as possible.  The other members of the commission were simply not having it, as she tried to persuade them to drop the trans phobic “locker room” amendment.

 

“It’s beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor proclaimed with exasperation, and a council member said the same a few minutes later.

 

And, then again, “This is beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor repeated, seemingly liking the sound of the phrase he had coined even more the second time around.

 

He just as well have said, “I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand!” for that is what I heard with a sinking feeling that remains with me, now rooted in my psyche just as firmly as the amendment is now part of the ordinance, which to some now codifies the vilification of trans people, and legalizes a certain form of discrimination against them.

 

I had not considered these thoughts prior to the hearing, and I apologize to the trans community for failing you.  I had taken the amendment lightly, as if any self respecting pre-op trans woman would be caught dead showing off the wrong genitalia in the women’s locker room.  (I focus on trans women only because that was the sum and substance of the hysteria at the hearing, though I do not wish to belittle the safety risk to trans men in the men’s locker room.)  I know that I would not have dared reveal my pre-op attachment – I was way too afraid of being read.  I’m thinking a penis would have been a dead give away.  But, more than that, I am far too modest and respecting of the women around me to compromise them in such a way, for I take my solidarity with women as a sacred trust.  For it is to this sisterhood that I belong, and losing that sense of belonging, as a woman among women, would be a fate worse than death.  Indeed, it would be as akin to death or more, while yet breathing, as were the last years of living as a man, drunk, dispirited and demoralized.

 

Could I have made a difference by continuing to urge a more specific understanding, as I had in general terms in my testimony?   Some have suggested that the council member who proposed the amendment relied on his belief that I “was okay with it” in so doing.  Well, I wasn’t okay with it.  In fact, I had posted just last week (and sent the post to the council) a suggested compromise to the  amendment whereby a public accommodation would not be discriminating if they asked a person who displayed socially inconsistent genitalia in the locker room to leave.  Some would have trouble with even this compromise, although, given my statements above about fear, modesty and solidarity, I think it is entirely reasonable.  I stand by it.

 

Nonetheless, I did not talk about bathrooms in my testimony, so, council members evidently did not feel that the trans community objected.  I am just one person who testified, I realize, however, many have looked to me to represent their interest and I did not.  I let you down and I regret that.

 

As I ponder these matters, in the quiet half light of dusk, with a growing philosophical sense, I realize that I am not to blame.  No one is that powerful – to enlighten the minds of those with limits upon their own understanding.