Today, the House Judiciary Committee heard a bill from Rep. Kris Hansen. The bill seeks to undo protections put in place by local communities to expand on the state’s Human Rights Act. This act protects certain protected groups from discrimination in housing, employment and other public accommodations.
Opponents of the measure came from across the state to testify. Unfortunately, the Republican majority on the committee attempted to limit testimony on both sides of the issue to ten minutes. 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.
After the hearing, opponents of the measure held their own hearing, next to the statue of Rep. Jeannette Rankin, where they allowed all of the opponents of the measure speak and be heard. During this informal hearing, Sen. Carol Williams and other Democratic lawmakers showed up to show their frustrations with the treatment of these Montanans that simply wanted to be heard.
Let’s be clear on what happened today. 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.