In the People's Interest

This reckless legislative session lowered the bar


Guest columnist
There’s nowhere to go but up. Our 67th Montana Legislature hit the lowest bar ever. We need to join together, do damage control, and make sure such a reckless, overreaching, power-grabbing session never happens again in our beloved state. The 2021 session was unprecedented for its hybrid nature, part in person, part remote during the novel COVID-19 pandemic. Our do-nothing legislative COVID panel was the problem. No mask requirements, no physical distancing, few protections.
Even more unprecedented was the far-right Republican abuse of power, double standards, hypocrisy, conflicts of interest, oppression, and intimidation.
Members of the public and Democratic and moderate Republican legislators who spoke up against the abuse of power didn’t stand a chance of civil discourse, or to move any legislation. So many bills fell along party lines in the House, 33 Democrats to 67 Republicans, or 67-33. That ratio worries me. It reflects the electorate. Montanans elected far-right extremists. Yet, I refuse to believe that most Montanans support their unconstitutional bills that deprive fellow Montanans of basic rights. Our state Constitution proclaims equality of opportunity and blessings of liberty, yet this far-right-controlled legislature stripped civil liberties from women, LGBTQ and trans people. It removed local control for firearms, clean indoor air, carbon, affordable housing zoning, and sanctuary cities. It dismantled our public health system that’s worked well for 100 years since the last pandemic. It trampled Tribal rights. It limited access to health care and free, fair elections. It sidelined Montana hunters in favor of out-of-state trophy hunters. It undermined our independent judiciary and the checks and balances that independence ensures. And this Republican
Legislature offered a $1 million bribe if the university system’s Board of Regents stays away from court, so that the far right gets concealed guns at college. No more youth political activity on campus, but packing heat is just fine.
Republican legislators and our governor will crow about the bill to appropriate and distribute federal COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and how they’re fast tracking money to Montana’s communities for things like broadband. ARPA funds come from the Biden Administration and Democratic Congress. Republicans in D.C. voted against COVID relief and now Republicans everywhere take credit for it. What’s more, far-right Montana legislators slipped in a section to reduce essential water infrastructure grant money by 20 percent for communities that
implement public health COVID protections more protective than the state. Counterintuitive, given these are COVID funds?
Yep. Inequitable? Check. Downright wrong? You bet. Republicans boast about passing the governor’s tax plan with tax cuts for you. Friends, the real-money tax cuts go to the super-wealthy one percent and out of state corporations. Main Street businesses and hardworking Montanans get to keep the loose change. Republican talking points won’t include the taxes of 30,000 Montanans who earn less than $60,000 a year will go up, not down, or the business equipment tax reduction primarily benefits big corporations, or these tax treats to big special interests could jeopardize Montana’s ARPA money.
67-33 damaged freedoms, dignity, and equity. This is not who we are. Montana is a kind, welcoming, hospitable home. After this session, not so much.
The only place to go is up, my friends. And the way back up to our high bar is to rise up with our strong voices and votes.
Mary Ann Dunwell is a fourth term Democratic state legislator, serving Montana’s House District 84 in Helena and East Helena.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Editorial 5/15/21

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