News & Updates
Yesterday marked an important deadline in the 2017 legislative session. It was the transmittal deadline for all revenue bills and those bills that created legislative referendums to be voted on by the people. Any of these types of bills that failed to pass from one house to the other are now dead. Among them, unfortunately, is the Montana Locker Room Privacy Act.
On the plus side, House Bill 417, the bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under Montana Human Rights Law is also dead.
You may think with every passing deadline, that the level of anxiety would decrease, and it does, to some extent. But it’s offset by the fact that games are played near the end of a session. And some of those games can have far-reaching consequences. Case in point: Last Friday a bill sponsored by the Senate President was quietly introduced and placed on the fast-track. It’s Senate Bill 375, and the title is, “Generally Revised Marriage Laws.” Generally revised, I’ll say! The bill actually does away with marriage licenses and replaces them with a declaration of marriage that can be filed optionally after a couple has had a marriage ceremony in their church or anywhere else, for that matter. It’s a whopper of a bill, 18 pages thick, mainly striking the marriage license provisions in current law.
These types of bills have become more prevalent after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage. We said 20 years ago that if marriage was ever redefined to include same-sex couples, it would result in the eventual demise of the institution, itself. And this bill is just the latest example.
The knee-jerk reaction to Obergefell is, “Fine, if you want to redefine marriage, then we’ll just get government out of marriage completely.” It’s interesting that these types of bills never came up before marriage was redefined. The Montana bill, in its current form, is a sort of hybrid between our current system and full-blown privatization of marriage. It keeps most of the marriage laws in place, while removing the requirement to get a license.
The problem we have with the bill is the late date of introduction, the fact that it’s being fast-tracked, and the fact that there’s so little time for a complete analysis of the wide-sweeping effects of the bill. I’m reminded of the old saying, that for every deep and complex problem, there’s a simple solution, and it’s wrong.
The bill came up so fast in the Senate that there were no witnesses in favor of passage and very few in opposition. No one knew the bill existed. It is set to pass out of the Senate today and hit the House next week. One witness in opposition talked about the over 1,000 legal benefits of marriage and the fact that we don’t know how this bill could affect the people’s ability to access those benefits, or whether the benefits would be available to the couples’ children.
I was reminded of President Reagan who said his greatest regret from his entire political career was signing California’s first-in-the-nation no-fault divorce law in 1970. It was meant to make the process of divorce simpler and less painful, but it actually swept the nation in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and resulted in an exponential increase in the number of divorces, leaving devastated families in its wake. Could this bill have the same types of unintended consequences? Quite possibly, which is why we’re so concerned. Marriage is the bedrock institution of society, and major changes like this should be carefully considered, not fast-tracked in the closing days of a legislative session.
In every legislative session there’s at least one bill that no one saw coming, and that eventually takes center stage. This year, it appears to be Senate Bill 305, better known as the Mail-In Ballot Bill. It’s also becoming known as the “gift that just keeps on giving,” in a bad way.
This is a bill that would allow counties to opt for mail-in ballots exclusively, in the upcoming special election to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke. The counties say it would save them money; the Democrats really want the bill; and the Conservative wing of the Republican party believes the bill, if passed, would give a distinct advantage to the Democrat candidate. It’s interesting. Democrats insist that mail-in ballots give them no particular advantage, yet they virtually riot every time the bill comes up for a hearing, at least in the House of Representatives.
The first instance was last Thursday, a day that will live in legislative infamy. It began with a heavy hearing schedule, four bills in four hours, and three of them with the potential to be controversial. The chairman, in an attempt to stay on schedule, limited the time for testimony on every bill. When time ran out for testimony on Senate Bill 305, a proponent refused to stop talking and had to be escorted out by police. The audience, egged on by one committee Democrat in particular, started catcalling the chairman, and the room had to be cleared. When order was restored, the Democrat in question continued to disrupt the proceedings by making motion after motion to reopen the hearing.
The next day a bill of hers that passed second reading 39 to 11 mysteriously died on the Senate floor by a unanimous vote. Many say the Senate was sending a message that contempt for decorum would not be tolerated.
Now, fast forward to yesterday when committee Democrats, again, tried to do an end run around the chairman by forcing an early vote on the bill. It backfired when Republicans who actually supported the bill circled the wagons around their chairman and voted to table it. This set off the Democrat who led the charge last week, and the committee, again, went into meltdown mode. As I said, it’s interesting that there would be this much drama around a bill that the Democrats insist will not affect the election.
The rumor is that the Democrats will make a motion on Friday to have the bill taken from the committee and brought to the floor of the House for a vote. No doubt more drama will ensue. Like I said, it’s the “gift that just keeps on giving.”
The interesting thing is the dynamics that have followed this bill from the beginning. Twice we’ve seen legislators reprimanded because they made a mockery of the process and decorum. Legislators who were planning to vote in favor of the bill voted, instead, to kill it because they refused to reward bad behavior. Anarchy may work on college campuses, but at the Capitol, adults are in charge, and they demand a higher standard.
As I’ve said before, the thing that sets us apart from third-world countries is our ability to discuss tough issues in a civilized manner. If we allow chaos and mob rule to destroy the system, then we all lose. I, for one, applaud these legislators who are rising above the fray. It’s what distinguishes a statesman from a partisan hack.
One of the most frustrating things for a lobbyist is to spend months working on a bill, lining up testimony, answering a myriad of questions, receiving commitments from legislators, then having those same legislators suddenly go south and switch their votes, especially when they told you 15 minutes beforehand that they were still solid. Yet, that’s exactly what happened yesterday when the House Judiciary Committee killed the Montana Locker Room Privacy Act.
As you may recall, the Montana Family Foundation has been opposing efforts for the past two years by the Montana School Boards Association, the Montana High School Association and the Obama administration to allow people to use restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms that align with their self-perceived gender identity. In plain English, that means allowing a boy or man who thinks he’s a girl to use the facilities that are designated for girls only. And it goes further than that. The Obama directive told high schools and universities that they had to allow boys who think they’re girls to live in girls’ dorms and stay in hotel rooms with female athletes if they choose to compete on a sports team that travels.
Just last week, a lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania by the parents of several high school boys who objected to a girl changing in their locker room. Rather than receiving sympathy from the school, the boys were given two options: either change with the girl and pretend that it’s normal; or go home and be home-schooled.
During testimony on the Locker Room Privacy Act, the thing that I found most interesting was the other side’s complete lack of concern for how their desire to use the other sex’s facilities might affect other people. We heard testimony from students whose younger siblings’ swim teams practice at a Montana university and change in the locker room, thus setting up the potential for a 9-year-old girl to encounter a 20-year-old college student who thinks he’s a girl. “Not our problem,” says the other side. Or the college co-ed who encountered a man in her college dormitory shower room and had to hide in a bathroom stall until he left. And single-stall facilities are not an acceptable solution, according to the other side. They want to be able to express themselves freely, regardless of how it effects those around them.
One of the big arguments against the bill was how it might affect Montana’s economy if musicians and sports teams decide not to come here, to which we respond, “Who cares?” It’s time to say with one loud voice, “We can’t be bought. Our daughters’ safety, privacy and dignity are not for sale.” When the vote on the bill was finally taken, four Republicans went south, along with all committee Democrats. They were Representatives Dale Mortensen of Billings, Kirk Waggoner of Clancy and Casey Knudsen of Malta. Representative Lola Sheldon-Galloway of Great Falls abstained.
The bill may have died, but this issue is too important to walk away from. We’re now making plans to gather the necessary signatures to put the issue on the ballot in 2018. According to our polling, the people of Montana oppose, by huge margins, the idea that their high school daughter should be forced to shower with a guy, even if he does believe he’s a girl. If you or your church would like to help gather signatures, please go to our website at
montanafamily.org. The legislature may have killed the bill, but the voters of Montana will have the final say.
There’s an old saying, “What goes around comes around,” and what’s coming soon is a predictable reality check that voters put into play clear back in November. I’m talking about a flood of bills that will pass both the Montana House and Senate only to run smack into the wall of the Governor’s veto pen.
Back in November, voters chose the Republican candidate over the Democrat candidate by large majorities in every single state-wide race, every race, that is, except the Governor’s race. For State Auditor, Matt Rosendale won by 37,000 votes, for Secretary of State, Cory Stapleton won by 72,000 votes and in the Attorney General’s race, Tim Fox won by a whopping 174,000 votes. Then came the Governor’s race where voters decided to re-elect Governor Steve Bullock by 19,000 votes. Fine. I get that. It’s the voters’ prerogative. But elections have consequences, and the consequences of electing large majorities of Republicans in the House and Senate, only to elect a Democrat governor is to enact gridlock, the very thing that voters say that they want most to avoid.
The problem is not with the elected officials. It’s with us, the electorate. We want something completely unrealistic. We want Republicans and Democrats to compromise and work together. Can’t they all just get along? Short answer: No, they can’t! If we take the time to read the Republican and Democrat party platforms, we see that they’re diametrically opposed on nearly every issue. These are substantive issues, borne out of two very different world views, so different, in fact, that the two sides don’t just see a benefit of having their viewpoint codified, they see a very real danger in having the other side’s values win the day.
In essence, there’s very little room for compromise, because Republican legislators and our Democrat governor both see themselves as the savior of the people, protecting values from irreparable harm should the other party’s values ever become law. And it’s for that reason that voters will never realize their dream of a utopian state where Republicans and Democrats sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya. We are a people deeply divided with two very distinct worldviews, competing for control of the State, and of the nation, for that matter.
As we draw closer to the end of the legislative session, the House and Senate clerks will begin to announce veto after veto after veto as bills begin to pile up on the Governor’s desk. If recent history’s any indication, we can expect as many as 80 vetoes, on everything from the 24-week abortion ban to the ban on using foreign laws in our courts to nearly every pro-gun law passed this session. And before we get mad at the Governor, let’s remember he’s just being true to his party’s platform. It’s we, the voters, who decided to match a Republican legislature with a Democrat governor, then hope for the best.
And in the end, we DID get their best. Republicans offered their very best policy from THEIR viewpoint, and the Governor is doing his best to only enact policy consistent with HIS party’s beliefs. Both sides are doing their best. The only problem is each side’s best is incompatible with their opponent’s beliefs. The result is gridlock. And it’s exactly what we voted for.
After years of attempts by groups such as the Montana High School Association, the Montana School Boards Association and President Obama’s Federal Department of Education trying to force schools to allow boys who believe they’re girls to use girls’ locker rooms and shower rooms, Montana parents will finally have a chance to voice THEIR opinion, and according to our polling, their opinion is “No, no how, no way, not on OUR watch!”
The vehicle is LC2373, a legislative ballot referendum that would restrict the use of locker rooms, shower rooms and other protected facilities, to people’s biological sex. No more free passes into the girls’ shower room for boys just for saying they’re a girl. To its credit, the bill does allow schools to offer creative solutions, such as single-stall facilities, to students with special circumstances. At the same time, it protects the privacy, safety and dignity of all students, and that’s how it should be.
The bill became necessary after several recent events. Last year lawsuits were filed after the now infamous Obama mandate letter. One of those, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board had worked its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When President Trump was elected, one of his first actions was to rescind the Obama decree, which rendered the court case moot. The Supreme Court then remanded the case back to the Fourth Circuit, and President Trump said these policies should be handled at the state level.
This ballot referendum is a direct result of Trump’s directive and it basically does three things: It furthers the states’ interest in protecting all people in public schools, colleges, universities and government buildings; it specifically focuses on the privacy and safety of those persons; and it seeks to maintain order and dignity in those facilities. It does that by requiring a person using a locker room, shower room or other protected facility to use the facility designated for that person’s biological sex. It also requires public entities, such as schools and colleges, to maintain separate facilities for men and women and allows for civil penalties if they fail to do so. In working with the bill’s sponsor, Representative Carl Glimm, the Montana Family Foundation also placed reasonable accommodations into the bill for people with special circumstances.
As we said, the purpose of the bill was to deal with the fallout from the Obama mandate in a way that provided for the privacy, safety and dignity of all people. The bill could be heard in the House as early as next week. If it passes both the House and Senate, it will be placed on the 2018 ballot for a vote of the people. And that seems only appropriate. These are important issues, and ballot referendums give the courts a clear impression of where the people stand.
Our ballot referendum in 2012 that required abortion providers to notify parents before performing an abortion on a minor passed by 71%. We predict this one will pass by a large percentage, as well, and when it does, it will protect the privacy, dignity and safety of all people, while at the same time, making reasonable accommodations for those with special needs. And isn’t that how it should be?