Montana Legislators Sneak in Anti-Transgender Attacks During Special Session

By Shane Stahl • November 15, 2017 • 1:23 pm

Editors’ Note: The special session ended late on Wednesday, without taking action on anti-LGBTQ legislation.

On Tuesday, Montana lawmakers convened a special session of the legislature, ostensibly to discuss the state’s budget problems; however, during the session, a small group of Senators co-opted discussion and introduced a bill that would stop a rule making it easier for transgender Montanans to change the gender marker on their birth certificate to match the gender they live every day – claiming that the special session “didn’t include issues important to their caucus.”

This effort was spearheaded by Senator Al Olszewksi from Kalispell; during talks, he made a motion to keep the birth certificate rule from taking effect, saying that it would take upwards of $200,000 to update state computers and records. The motion received the necessary two-thirds vote from the legislative body and has already been drafted into a bill, SB 10, that will be heard in committee.

A spokesperson from the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), Jon Ebelt, said the rule change would not require changes in IT systems used for birth certificates:

“There’s been no fiscal impact,” he said. “We will be able to process birth certificate changes by utilizing the current system.”

The rule change was initially discussed in a public hearing held by DPHHS on October 13; public comment was allowed through October 20. DPHHS stated during the hearing that having this rule in effect would bring that state in line with other states. To adopt the rule, DPHHS would file a notice with the Secretary of State; the department plans to file soon, and the rule would take effect two weeks following approval.

The Montana Human Rights Network said in a statement:

“This is an abuse of the legislative process in order to discriminate, and an attack on Montanans who want to live their life with dignity and safety.”

As of 11:26 Tuesday night, over 20 opponents of SB 10 were lined up in the Capitol building waiting to speak.

This is the latest in the state’s alarming anti-transgender agenda. Earlier this year, the Montana Family Foundation introduced I-183, a ballot initiative that would bar transgender Montanans from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The ACLU of Montana has filed a lawsuit in the Eighth District Court on behalf on 10 transgender Montanans challenging the measure as unconstitutional. The ACLU also won a legal challenge in the Montana Supreme Court regarding the ballot measure’s language; the court found it insufficient in explaining the intended and unintended consequences of the measure passing. This will require the Attorney General to revise both the initiative’s ballot statement and fiscal note.

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