As the 2021 session of the Montana Legislature draws nearer to the end a number of bills have made their way to the governor’s desk and some of these have already been signed. Others are still awaiting Gov. Gianforte’s signature. Here’s a look at a few of the bills that should be of interest to those in the Sidney area, including secure voting, increased DUI fines, ending time changes and a permanent expansion of telehealth services.

SB 169/HB 176

Governor Greg Gianforte has signed Senate Bill 169 and House Bill 176 which the governor said are aimed at preserving the integrity of Montana’s elections.

“Montana has a long history of secure, transparent elections, setting a standard for the nation,” Gov. Gianforte said. “These new laws will help ensure the continued integrity of Montana’s elections for years to come.”

Also supporting the measures was Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who added, “Montana sets the standard for elections across the country, however, there is always room for improvement, and voter ID and voter registration deadlines are best practices in protecting the integrity of elections.”

Sponsored by Senator Mike Cuffe (R-Eureka), SB 169 requires Montanans to provide identification to vote and register to vote.

Identification options include a Montana driver’s license, a tribal photo identification card, a state identification card number pursuant to 61-12-501, and a military identification card, among others.

HB 176, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Greef (R-Florence), closes late voter registration at noon the day before the election. With this new law, Montana joins nearly thirty other states without election day voter registration.

House Bill 258

HB 258 has passed the legislature and been signed by Gov. Gianforte. The bill would ban state employees from enforcing or implementing federal bans on firearms, magazines or ammunition, except in certain cases, including those related to fully automatic firearms, violent felons, and domestic violence.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jedediah Hinkle (R-Belrade) said the bill was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee after the Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officer’s Association (MSPOA) announced their opposition but was later revived.

House Bill 115

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, HB 115 would increase fines and jail time for fifth and subsequent DUI convictions. Fines would increase up to $10,000 and could also include up to 25 years in prison for a seventh conviction.

The House voted to accept amendments from the Senate on a 73-27 vote, meaning the bill faces one more vote before heading to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk.

During a House debate on the bill in February, Mercer positioned the bill as a way to prevent drunken drivers who reach their fifth or sixth DUI convictions from potentially harming people on the road. He added that while repeat offenses are less and less likely each time a person is cited for driving under the influence, those who reach five or six convictions aren’t likely to stop.

Senate Bill 254

Senate Bill 254 has passed out of the legislature and is waiting on the governor’s signature. It would stop the state from falling back an hour in November if three other states in the region pass similar legislation. The bill, however, cannot officially become law unless the federal government also approves the measure.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states considered legislation to put an end to time changes, including a number of western states. Idaho and Utah passed similar legislation in 2020, meaning only one more state needs to do away with their time change for Montana to possibly make the switch if and when Uncle Sam gives his blessing as well.

House Bill 112

The Montana House of Representatives and Senate both approved this controversial bill this past Thursday afternoon. House Bill 112 bounced back and forth between houses a number of times before finally seeing the light of day. The bill would bar transgender women from competing in women’s sports.

During its third debate on the House Floor, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Fuller (R-Whitefish), urged passage of the bill, even if it’s possible it will face legal challenges.

This bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

As an interesting side note, North Dakota’s governor vetoed similar legislation this past week, stating no transgender female had asked to participate in girl’s sports at this point.

House Bill 43

Governor Greg Gianforte has signed a bill to eliminate unnecessary telehealth regulations and open the door to expanding access to health care.

“Telehealth services are transforming how care is delivered in Montana, particularly in our frontier and rural communities,” Gianforte said. “This new, commonsense law eliminates unnecessary, burdensome regulations, increases flexibility for patients and providers and makes health care more accessible to more Montanans. If these telehealth regulations weren’t needed as we confront the pandemic, they’re not needed as we move forward.”

Sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Knudsen (R-Culbertson), HB 43 permanently eliminates some telehealth regulations waived during the pandemic, like geographic and site restrictions and a requirement that patients and providers establish a relationship prior to leveraging telehealth services under certain circumstances.

Constitutional Amendment

A proposed amendment to Montana’s State Constitution has passed the Legislature and will appear on the ballot in 2022 for ratification by the voters.

The constitutional amendment was brought by Senator Ken Bogner, R-Miles City. It would change the state’s constitution to protect the privacy of Montanans’ electronic data and communications.

Article II, Section 11 of the Montana State Constitution already protects Montanans’ persons, papers, homes, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures, similar to the Fourth Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution.

The constitutional amendment proposed by Senate Bill 203 would add Montanans’ “electronic data and communications” to that list of places and items that cannot be searched or seized by the government without a warrant based on probable cause.

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