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Montana legislature stifles debate over competing LGBT protections bills

Saturday, February 19, 2011
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HELENA, Mont. — The Montana state legislature is considering two controversial civil rights bills, and the debate has quickly turned into battle over LGBT rights.

At issue are House bills 514 and 516, both centered around an April 2010 Missoula ordinance enacted to protect LGBT citizens from employment, housing and other forms of discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

House Bill 514 seeks to expand Missoula’s anti-discrimination ordinance statewide, extending protection based on gender identity or sexual orientation throughout Montana.

But House Bill 516, sponsored by Rep. Kristin Hansen (R-Havre), would have the opposite effect, and seeks to prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or other policies like Missoula’s that include, as a protected class from discrimination, any groups not already included under current state statute.

The Montana Human Rights Act statute does currently include protections for LGBT citizens.

Hansen’s bill would repeal the Missoula ordinance, and prohibit other local governments from passing similar ordinances in the future.

On Friday, opponents of Hansen’s bill came from across the state to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, but the Republican majority attempted to limit testimony on both sides of the issue to ten minutes.

Via the Montana Capitol Report:

Democrats on the committee objected and even presented rules that require the public be able to at least verbally state their opposition to the bill. The Republicans on the committee ignored the rules, and refused to let opponents of the bill testify.

In response to the GOP actions, Rep. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) took to reading the names of every opponent (all 50+) of the measure and asked them to stand and be acknowledged.

Let’s be clear on what happened … Republicans decided there wasn’t enough time to listen to people who were possibly being stripped of their rights. However, since the beginning of the legislative session, the Republicans have given full and fair hearing to the following bills:

  • SB 112 – Which allows makes a hand thrown spear a legal form of hunting.
  • HB 278 – Which allows every city to create their own militia.
  • SJ 2 – Which urges the United States to withdraw from the United Nations.
  • HB 205 – The “Birther Bill.”
  • HB 384 – Which allows people to carry concealed weapons in bars, banks and churches.

These are bills, which are either unconstitutional, based on conspiracy theories or seriously threaten our public safety, that they think are worthy of their time, however they believe bills that strip rights from Montanans aren’t worthy of full hearings. It says a lot about the priorities of the Republican Majority in the Montana Legislature.

Montana’s legislative rules state that any person wishing to offer testimony to a bill must be given an opportunity to do so orally or in writing.

Not surprisingly, conservative religious groups turned out en masse to support Hansen’s bill to repeal Missoula’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

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