Montana Legislature: Taking Its Sweet Time Removing Archaic Hate Language

Last week, I wrote about the inability of the Montana legislature to simply remove outdated hate language from the books:

montanawelcomeThe Montana Senate can’t even take an up-or-down vote on whether or not the law should say gays and lesbians deserve ten years in prison and/or $50,000 fines – simply for being gays and lesbians.

Word is they’re sending the bill back to committee to attach bad amendments to it requested by a Bitterroot-based anti-gay activist, Dallas Erickson. This motion would happen during the Senate floor session, possibly as soon as Wednesday (today).

Why back to committee? If it comes up quietly during an executive action, which can happen at pretty much any time, maybe there won’t be network television news cameras in front of them. Maybe the Associated Press and USAToday will miss it.

Maybe, just maybe, some members of the legislature can get away with labeling gay and lesbian Montanans as “deviates” and “felons” for another year and avoid the national embarrassment that will surely come with such an unfortunate decision.

Yeah, well…. They sent it back to committee on Friday.

Stay tuned.

COLORADO: Civil Unions Bill To Be Heard By Senate Committee Next Week

From Joe My God: 

English: Great Seal of the State of Colorado

English: Great Seal of the State of Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Wednesday the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on a proposed civil unions bill.

Senate Bill 11 would “authorize any 2 unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to enter into a civil union.” Last year, the Colorado House failed to vote on a civil union bill before the end of a special session of the legislature. This legislative session, democrats control the majority in the House and Senate. House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D – Denver) says he would like to have a civil unions bill on Governor Hickenlooper’s desk by Valentine’s Day but has acknowledge it may take more time to get the bill through both chambers. 

Hot on the heels of Washington marriage equality, and with Wyoming considering marriage equality (and a civil unions bill), looks like the west may be getting more savvy.

Montana GOP: Plotting To Oust Moderates?

From the Great Falls Tribune: 

On the surface, lawmakers in the 63rd Montana Legislature appear to be working to get along and to advance bills both parties can live with.

But below the surface, a simmering ideological battle is threatening to boil over onto the Senate floor.

The red "GOP" logo used by the party...

The red “GOP” logo used by the party for its website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The turmoil isn’t between Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, and their Democratic counterparts. The most heated political power struggle under way at the Capitol right now is between the conservative and moderate factions within the GOP caucus.

It’s a power struggle that has played out in local legislative primary races. It is often bantered about in the halls of the Capitol and in the watering holes around Helena.

Emails recently obtained by the Tribune pull back the curtain and give the public a glimpse of the seething intra-party acrimony that has infected the Legislature’s most powerful body.

The documents show key members of the Senate Republican caucus, including members of the current leadership team, began plotting their power play as early as September of last year.

According to one former state senator who was defeated in a three-way Republican primary last June, conservative members of the Senate caucus began identifying allies and enemies and painting political targets as early as July 2011, just a few months after the session adjourned.

The emails and documents — which feature a lengthy discussion between Senate President Jeff Essmann of Billings, Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich of Bozeman, Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge, Majority Whip Frederick “Eric” Moore of Miles City, Sen. Ed Walker of Billings and Sen. Dave Lewis of Helena — outline the strategy the conservative Republicans in the Senate caucus used to seize power from the 2011 leadership team in order to advance their policies in 2013.

The goal of the new conservative leadership team, as Essmann detailed in one email last September, was to advance a “long game strategy” that “involves changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court” so the high court “does not find a constitutional block to every conservative policy initiative and will give (Republicans) a better shot at redistricting in 10 years.”

“(Republican Redistricting Commissioner) Jon Bennion was able to draw a map with 63 safe Republican seats,” Essmann wrote on Sept. 13 in an email with the subject line “Agenda control.”

“If we can implement the long term strategy we will be in a position to actually elect a majority of conservatives in both bodies, adopt conservative legislation and have a court that will uphold it,” Essmann wrote.

Read the full story here.

Better Know a Legislator: Sen. Robyn Driscoll and Sen. Janna Taylor

In today’s edition of Better Know a Legislator we’ll look at the records of two women who served 8 years in the House, and are now serving their first session in the Senate: Sen. Robyn Driscoll (D-Billings) and Sen. Janna Taylor (R-Dayton).

Sen. Robyn Driscoll, SD 26

Sen. Robyn DriscollSen. Robyn Driscoll is one of the unsung heroes of the Montana legislature. A strong and steady leader, Robyn says what Montana progressives are thinking and she never backs down in the face of opposition from the right. These strengths as well as her positive demeanor are why her colleagues in the Senate elected her as one of their whips for the session.

Sen. Driscoll was one of the true hero’s of the infamously bad 2011 House Judiciary Committee. In that committee women and students were constantly demonized, but Robyn never let the horrible comments of legislators and the right-wing public go unchallenged.

Robyn also was a hero on the House floor. One of her most notable actions on the floor was introducing an amendment to a Republican bill that would require trans-vaginal ultrasounds before a woman could have an abortion. Her amendment would require that men undergo an EKG heart health test before they are able to get a prescription for Viagra or other drugs to combat erectile dysfunction. Needless to say Republican heads spun. This amendment was effective in pointing out the insanity of the bill and helped to kill it on the House floor.

This session, Robyn will serve on the Senate Juciary, Rules, Energy & Telecom, and Education & Cultural Resources Committees.

Sen. Janna Taylor, SD 6

Sen Janna TaylorLike Sen. Driscoll, Sen. Janna Taylor is also serving her first session in the Senate. While in the House, Taylor served as the Speaker Pro-Temp in the disastrous 2011 legislative session.

During the 2011 session, Taylor’s hypocrisy was on full display. She led the charge against federal funds that were intended to help fund programs to benefit students, people with disabilities, seniors, rural health care providers and low-income Montanans. However, while leading this charge, she and her husband helped themselves to more than a million dollars in federal farm subsidies. When challenged about her hypocrisy, instead of taking responsibility for her actions she said, “I can control state tax dollars, but I can’t control federal tax dollars. You’d have to talk to Tester and Baucus about federal tax policy.” Congratulations Janna, for living up to your party’s mantra of “taking responsibility for your actions.”

Taylor also received national notoriety for her comments against the abolition of the death penalty. While testifying against the bill, Taylor said that we had to keep the death penalty because if we got rid of it, we’d have no way to punish HIV-positive murderers, who are currently in jail serving a life-sentence, who spit spit-balls at guards. I’m not joking.

Is This The Year Montana Comes into the 20th Century?

To put it lightly, Montana’s legislature has not been exactly progressive on LGBT issues. In fact, as far as I can tell, there has never been a pro-LGBT law that has EVER passed the legislature to be signed in to law.

With a bright shiny new legislature sworn in and a Democrat holding on to the governor’s office, is it possible that 2013 will be the first legislative victory for LGBT people in Montana?

As many folks know, here in Montana we still have a law on the books declaring that homosexual acts are a form of criminal behavior. While this law has been struck down by the courts, the law has remained on the books, despite the fact that it has been unenforceable for nearly 2 decades.

During the 2011 session, a bill to remove this language from the books actually passed the Senate, and received a majority of votes in the House, but because it had to be “blasted” out of the disastrous House Judiciary Committee it required 60 votes, which it didn’t receive.

With Democrats picking up 7 seats in the House, along with one or two clearly equality-minded Republicans being elected, it seems that if the bill can pass the House Judiciary committee it’ll almost certainly pass into law, and even if House Judiciary tables the bill, there is still a decent chance it would receive the 60 votes necessary to be blasted out of that committee.

While, I don’t want to count chickens before they’re hatched, but it appears that the bill is poised to pass the Senate again easily, so I’m going to focus on the House. Judging from past votes, sponsorships or statements, here is how I see the current vote break-down on the issue in the House:

“Yes” votes: 45

B. Bennett, Boland, Brockie, Calf Boss Ribs, Clark, Coffin, Court, Curtis, Dudik, Eck, Fitzpatrick, Gibson, Gursky, Hill, Hollenbaugh, Hoven, Hunter, Jacobson, Lieser, Lynch, McCarthy, Neill, Peppers, MacDonald, McChesney, McClafferty, McNally, Mehlhoff, Miller, Noonan, Pease-Lopez, Pierson, Pomnichowski, Price, Schreiner, Schwaderer, B. Smith, Squires, Steenberg, Swanson, Whitford, Williams, Wilmer, Wilson, Woods

Likely “Yes” votes: 8

Ankney, Connell, Cook, Cuffe, Greef, Knudsen, Lavin, Welborn

“No” votes: 27

Bangerter, G. Bennett, Berry, Blasdel, Blyton, Brodehl, Edmunds, Ehli, Flynn, Hansen, Harris, Hollandsworth, Howard, Ingraham, Kary, Kerns, McNiven, O’Hara, O’Neil, Osmundson, Randall, Regier, Reichner, C. Smith, Vance, Warburton, Washburn

Likely “No” votes: 5

Doane, Fiscus, Laszloffy, K. White, Wagoner

Unclear: 15

Ballance, Galt, Glimm, Hagan, Hagstrom, Halvorson, Hertz, D. Jones, Lang, Lenz, D. Moore, Redfield, Salomon, Shaw, Zolnikov

Organizations such as the Human Rights Network and the Montana ACLU will be working hard all session long to get as many votes as possible for this bill. You can help by contacting the legislators that are in the “Unclear” category, or in the “Likely Yes” category to urge them to remove the stain of this law from our books.

Removing this law from our books would be a small victory, but it is a victory nonetheless and it is a good way to get wavering legislators to get a pro-equality vote under their belt.

 

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

Image

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.

Tester’s All Over Montana. Rehberg? Nowhere to Be Found

United States Senate Seal

United States Senate Seal (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

From Politico:

Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg are locked in possibly the closest Senate race in the country, but their final weekend of campaigning suggests it’s anything but.

Tester is on an 800-mile sprint across this majestic state, energizing his base and trying to persuade Mitt Romney backers to split their ticket and give the Democratic incumbent another six years in the Senate.

Rehberg, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen on the campaign trail. He’s employing the classic, play-it-safe strategy of a frontrunner running down the clock — even though polls indicate the race is a true tossup.

But the thing that made my skin crawl:

Rehberg declined a request for an interview.

Typical.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83268.html#ixzz2BDvfDeEt