Who’s winning and losing as the legislature winds down

Johnson, Mauk & Dennison 3SMALLTonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about where all the big-ticket items stand a week before adjournment: the budget, Medicaid expansion, state workers’ pay raises and pensions –  and school funding. They also discuss the unlikely hero of the session for gay rights supporters….

Law banning gay sex in Montana removed from the books

Linda Gryczon, the lead plaintiff in the MT Supreme Court case throwing out the state's ban on homosexual sex, celebrates the law's official removal Thursday

Linda Gryczan, the lead plaintiff in the MT Supreme Court case throwing out the state’s ban on homosexual sex, celebrates the law’s official removal Thursday

“I am not going to speak too long,” Governor Steve Bullock told the cheering crowd packed into the rotunda of the state capitol building. “Because frankly, the longer I talk the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law continues to stay on our books.”
Bullock shortly thereafter signed Senate Bill 107, which officially removes a law criminalizing homosexual sex in the state. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the law 15 years ago, but state legislators kept the law on the books.
Helena lobbyist Linda Gryczan filed the original suit which led to the Supreme Court nullifying the ban. A gay woman, Gryczan said the Thursday ceremony to remove the defunct law meant a lot more than if the legislature would have dropped it shortly after the 1997 Supreme Court decision.
“Because (that) would have followed the normal course of what you’d expect, unconstitutional law, you take it off the books…it makes sense,” Gryczan said. “Unfortunately to a lot of people, prejudice got in the way and we had to fight that prejudice.”
A bill to toss the law failed every other attempt before the Montana Legislature before this year. This time, the Senate voted 38-11 to pass the law. The House passed it with a 64-35 vote.
Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby)

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby)

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby) was one of the 35 Republicans who opposed the bill. He says he’s against the bill on religious grounds, but it was not a hateful vote. “God says we’re to love one another…but I still have to remain true to my beliefs in God and what he asks of us and so balancing that is a very difficult thing at times.”

The final debate on the House floor was largely between Republicans, with many arguing to remove the law to recognize individual rights and privacy. Arguably the most passionate testimony in favor of SB107 came from Representative Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip), who has a gay daughter.
To say she is any less of a person, or she is a criminal for her lifestyle, really upsets me. And for anybody that would feel that way—upsets me,” Ankney said, pointing at the other lawmakers. “I don’t think God thinks any less of my daughter than he does of any one of you in here.”
Montana Human Rights Network Lobbyist Jamee Greer says the passage of SB107 is “the first explicit victory for the LGBT community through the (Montana) legislature in history.” He believes it may be a watershed moment for gay rights in the state.
Governor Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 107 with Rep. Bryce Bennet (left) and Senator Tom Facey looking on.

Governor Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 107 with Rep. Bryce Bennet (left) and Senator Tom Facey looking on.

Budget, retirement, friendship and getting hosed – all on Capitol Talk

Johnson, Mauk & DennisonSMALLOn this edition of “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the House’s unusual unanimous passage of the state budget, the fate of Medicaid expansion, the competing plans to bail out state pensions, and the rift between two long time political allies, over remarks about the conduct of some University of Montana football players…

Committee to examine all amendments to state budget bill in one day

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip)

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip)

The House Appropriations Committee has been looking into the state’s massive General Fund Budget Bill all week. Subcommittees have been looking at pieces of that bill for the last two months, like Education, Corrections, Health and Human Services, etc.

The full appropriations committee now needs to broadly consider the entire, $3.5 billion  House Bill 2 as well as any amendments before voting to send it to the House floor.

 And there are a lot of amendments being proposed to House Bill 2–about 100 of them as of Friday afternoon.These range from several being requested by the Montana University System to Title X funding for family planning.

In recent sessions, the appropriations committee would consider amendments at the same time they examined that section of the budget; i.e. examining amendments regarding K-12 schools when discussing education.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Representative Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) is trying a different tactic this year. He is examining the sections of the budget piece by piece. For instance, the committee is looking at the education portion of the bill today. But instead of dealing with amendments during the time their respective section is being discussed–the committee will be looking at all the proposed amendments in one marathon meeting on Monday.

“It’s gonna be hectic,” Ankney said, “it’s gonna be mind-numbing, but Appropriations is mind-numbing so it’s just another day at the office.”
This hasn’t been done for awhile, but Ankney says the tactic has been used before by the committee. He says it allows for lawmakers to specifically focus on each section of the budget and hear from all the stakeholders without the emotion the involved  with debating and voting on amendments oftentimes determining the fate of millions of dollars of state funds. In theory, the lawmakers would be able to digest this information and then more efficiently move through the amendments Monday. Ankney does not believe this method will result in particular amendments not getting a fair shot.
The House Bill 2 budget is very close to the budget proposed by Governor Steve Bullock, with the Republican-crafted bill exceeding Bullock’s proposal by one percent. In an interview Friday, Bullock said some of his priorities were removed from the budget and he’d like to see those make it back in on Monday.
“Whatever the process they choose is less important to me than the end result,” Bullock said.
Bullock specifically advocated amendments to fund universal enrollment software for the Montana University System and money for certain veterans services on college campuses.