The 2021 State Legislature: Everything You Need to Know
Your one-stop shop for the latest legislative news and updates
This afternoon, the Senate Natural Resources Committee voted to table House Bill 320, Rep. Steve Gunderson's attempt to pave the way to federal land transfer. The following is a statement from our State Policy Director Noah Marion:
“We thank the bipartisan group of legislators who voted to table HB 320. Despite the sponsor’s claims, HB 320 was a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing bill that would have paved the way for large-scale land transfer, a defeated and discredited idea that would have crippled public access and cost Montana taxpayers millions. Now that lawmakers have rejected HB 320, we hope they focus on priorities Montanans actually support, like securing badly needed funding for access, working lands, and wildlife habitat.”
We also worked with Western Resource Advocates on a report detailing the economic consequences of federal land transfer. Transfer legislation would dramatically increase management, fire suppression, and staffing costs that would run well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Land transfer is a pernicious idea that fringe lawmakers keep bringing up session after session after session. Together, we've made it abundantly clear that Montanans have no interest in transfer, and your voice has been such a massive part of that effort. This session, over 1,700 MWA members and supporters contacted their legislators about HB 320, and at the end of the day it paid off with a bipartisan group of legislatos rejecting HB 320 by an 8-4 vote. You are truly an essential part of this effort.
To keep this momentum going, please consider making a donation today.
Senate Joint Resolution 7, which calls on Congress to eliminate the Hidden Pasture Creek Wilderness Study Area near Dell, passed out of the House Thursday on a party-line vote. It's disappointing that lawmakers continue their end run around Montanans and push unpopular, top-down approaches, especially after the legislature's own Environmental Quality Council emphasized collaborative solutions. We thank the legislators who voted against this resolution and support a collaborative solutions for Montana's public land. We'll continue to encourage Congress to quit politicking with our public lands and do what the Montana Legislature didn't: put its energy into bipartisan, collaborative efforts supported by the majority of Montanans.
On Thursday, the Senate passed House Bill 2, one of two appropriations bills with major implications for public lands. The bill is hundreds of pages long and affects virtually every aspect of state government, but it also secures key funding for departments like Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Environmental Quality, and Natural Resources and Conservation. It’s a positive step to ensure that there will be funding for key maintenance projects and infrastructure improvements that will help all Montanans access and enjoy our public lands.
There's another budget bill making its way through the legislature, too. HB 5 would secure millions for Habitat Montana, Montana's Trail Stewardship Grant Program, the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition, and the new state parks and fishing access sites.
There’s still a lot to do this session, but we should take time to celebrate wins like this when they come around. It might not be sexy, but HB 2 is a big deal for Montana’s public lands, and we should take heart that our public lands are in better financial shape today than they were yesterday.
On Tuesday, Montanans from across the state took part in what's become a session tradition: the Rally for Public Lands. Though this year's Rally was virtual, more than 600 of you showed up to celebrate our public lands, thank some legislators for being public lands champions, and holding others accountable for voting for bad bills.
We were joined virtually by four incredible speakers: former Director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation Rachel Schmidt; Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation Board Member Francine Spang-Willis; sportsman and hunting ethics advocate Andrew Posewitz; and world-famous climber and mountaineer Conrad Anker.
Though we weren't able to shake the walls of the Capitol Rotunda like we have in the past, the energy and support were palpable. We're always so proud to see the power of the grassroots movement to support our public lands, and we can't thank you enough for being a part of it.
If you missed the Rally, you can watch a replay here.
And if you'd like to join the hundreds of others who contacted legislators on the day of the Rally to thank them or hold them accountable, it's not too late! You can send a message to your legislators here.
Today, the House Appropriations Committee tabled House Bill 697, a bill that would have funneled hunting license dollars away from Habitat Montana to pay farmers for wildlife damage to crops. Habitat Montana is one of the state's premier habitat conservation and access programs. The following is a statement from State Policy Director Noah Marion.
"We thank the bipartisan group of legislators in the House Appropriations Committee for tabling HB 697. The bill would have raided Habitat Montana, the state's premier access and habitat conservation program, crippling public access and seriously jeopardizing the outdoor opportunities that are the backbone of our economy and outdoor way of life."
There are still numerous bills that would cripple conservation funding, and we need to make sure legislators don't advanced them. Please take a moment to contact your legislator about them today.
In what felt like an April Fools Day joke gone too far, majority leadership and the Governor’s office worked behind closed doors to force through legislation, over the objections of their constituents and colleagues, to cripple a fair recreational marijuana program and ransack critical public lands programs.
Four bills - HB 670, 683, 701, and 707 - would all strip funding from public lands initiatives, despite the wishes of Montana voters. These developments were made even worse by the strong-arm tactics leadership used to force these bills through committee and onto the House floor.
There's still time to defeat these bills, no matter how much state leadership wants them to success. Please contact your representative today and ask them to vote NO on HB 670, 683, 701, and 707.
After initially voting it down yesterday, senators struck an almost certainly fatal blow to HB 281 when they voted 26-24 to kill the bill that would have opened the door for motorized e-bikes on non-motorized trails on state lands.
Here’s a statement from State Policy Director Noah Marion.
"HB 281 was a cookie-cutter bill that would have taken land management decisions out of the hands of local communities without actually addressing the unique needs of our trail systems. Its defeat is a big win for Montana's trails, wildlife, and recreationists, and I'd like to thank the bipartisan group of senators who voted it down."
The strong bipartisan vote against HB 281 is yet more proof that Montana lawmakers are listening to Montanans when they speak up to protect public lands, quiet recreation, and our outdoor way of life. Thank you once again for speaking up at key moments during the legislature. Let’s all take a little time to enjoy this victory!
Late last night, Senate Joint Resolution 7, which would call on Congress to eliminate the Hidden Pasture Creek Wilderness Study Area, passed out of committee and onto the house floor. There's no action scheduled yet, but we're watching it closely and we'll let you know how things progress. In the meantime, you can contact your representative and ask them to table SJ 7 and support a collaborative approach to wilderness study areas.
The Senate is considering House Bill 281, a bill that would open the door for motorized electric bicycles (e-bikes) on non-motorized trails on state lands.
HB 281 is worrying for several reasons.
First of all, e-bikes are motorized, plain and simple. They have electric motors and can travel up to 28 miles per hour. Allowing them to use non-motorized trails would pose a threat to foot and stock users and lead to increased user conflict.
And that’s not all. E-bikes are significantly heavier than mountain bikes and erode and degrade trails, especially trails that are not designed to handle motorized use. Their increased range also lets them cover more ground, which negatively impacts wildlife in increasingly remote areas.
HB 281 is a cookie-cutter bill that takes management decisions out of the hands of local communities and doesn’t actually address Montanan's unique backcountry trails. We’re asking key senators to vote NO on this poorly thought out bill. Please take a minute to send a message to your senator asking them to vote no on HB 281.
This afternoon, a bipartisan group of state representatives voted to defeat HB418, the “hoax highways” bill that would have paved the way for new roads in Glacier National Park and other wild places all across Montana.
Here’s a statement from State Policy Director Noah Marion.
"We thank the bipartisan group of lawmakers who voted to respect Montana's outdoor way of life and defeat HB418. Public lands, and access to them, are central to our Montana way of life, and this "hoax highways" bill would have opened the door for the state to bulldoze roads across some of Montana's most beloved places, including Glacier National Park. Montanans deserve better than the endless litigation and enormous taxpayer expense that would have resulted had this bill become law, and we look forward to working with lawmakers on policies that will secure the future of public lands and public access across Montana."
The vote literally couldn’t have been any closer - it was 50-50, but a tie vote means the bill failed to advance.
We squeaked this one out, but barely. This smallest of margins goes to show just how important every phone call, email, and petition signature can be. A single legislator changing their vote because they hear from their constituents can be the difference between a dangerous anti-public-lands bill passing or stopping; just a few weeks ago, a bill that would facilitate land transfer passed by a single vote.
There's never been a better time to join our State Legislative Action Team. We'll send you texts when there's a chance for you to take action and help us achieve big wins just like this one. Every little action counts, and there's no better proof than the narrow margin of HB418's defeat.
Thank you so much for speaking up against HB418. Over 1,000 of you contacted your legislator over the last few weeks, and it made a difference. I hope you’re as inspired as I am and fired up for the next challenge.
Wednesday, March 3 was the official halfway point of the 2021 Montana Legislature. It's been a wild ride to this point, and we can't thank you enough for standing up for wild places and public lands during the last two months. All told, you've been part of a movement that's taken nearly 3,000 actions to stand up against bad legislation and support good bills. We've got our work cut out for us over the next two months to secure key funding, stop transfer and road building in wild places, protect wilderness study areas, and more, and we're so thankful to have you by our side.
Don't forget, you can still join the State Legislative Action Team to get breaking updates and action alerts via text. And of course, you can support our work by making a donation of $5, $10, or more.
In short order, the Montana House will consider a bill that would stop current and future public land protections.
HB418, sponsored by Rep. Steve Gunderson (R - Libby) and introduced at the request of Senator Steve Daines, would allow the state to take steps toward opening up roads on federal public land by designating historical rights-of-way as public “highways.” Please email your representative today and tell them to fight for Montana’s current and future public lands by defeating this deceptive and dangerous bill.
These “hoax highways” are not roads in any real sense - they’re overgrown cowpaths, forgotten two-tracks, and long-disused paths, some dating as far back as 1866. They don’t lead to schools, hospitals, or workplaces, and they often run through Wilderness or other protected areas.
If the state declared these forgotten routes to be “highways,” it would “nullify or diminish longstanding protections for national parks, national monuments, wilderness areas and other scenic landscapes. And it would slam the door on future protection of these remarkable public lands.”
We’ve seen this tactic tried in other states, and we won’t allow it to take hold in Montana. Please email your representative today and tell them just why HB418 would be bad for public lands, bad for public access, and bad for Montana.
This afternoon HB320 passed out of the House by a 51-49 vote. If just one more legislator had voted no, the bill would have died. This goes to show just how important contact our legislators about our priorities is. Every email, phone call, and letter can help convince on-the-fence lawmakers to vote for or against legislation, and it only takes one changed mind to stop a bad bill like HB320 in its tracks.
Now, the bill moves on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, where we are encouraging lawmakers will defeat it quickly and definitively. A statement from State Policy Director Noah Marion is below.
"This is a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing bill that's trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Montanans by making land transfer seem more palatable. Transfer would threaten our economic recovery, jeopardize public access, and cripple our outdoor way of life. Montanans have rejected transfer attempts over and over and over again, and it's time for lawmakers to stop pushing unpopular legislation and start focusing on things Montanans support, like funding our public lands and securing access for all Montanans."
"We'd like to thank the bipartisan group of House members who voted against HB320 and encourage the Senate to swiftly defeat it for the good of all Montanans."
There's one more chance to kill HB320 before it advances to the Senate. There will be a final House vote on the bill on Monday, and lawmakers have a chance to stop this dangerous bill in its tracks.
Contacting your legislator and asking them to vote against this bill on Monday can go a long way towards stopping this latests attempt to transfer public lands out of public hands. Please take a moment before Monday to send an email - it's a small thing that can make a big difference.
On Monday, the House Natural Resources Committee advanced Rep. Steve Gunderson’s (R - Libby) transfer bill out of committee and onto the House floor.
The House will discuss the bill on Wednesday. It has the power to kill it, so it’s critical that we all work together to let our representatives know just why this bill is such a terrible idea for our economy, our access, and out outdoor way of life.
Please email your representative today and tell them to fight back against HB320 and stand up for Montana’s future.
Earlier this week, the House Natural Resources Committee help a hearing on SB320, a a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing bill seeking to advance defeated and discredited land transfer ideas.
Montanans have defeated land transfer up over and over and over again, in every legislature since 2015, and this time will be no different. Land transfer would cripple public access, hurt Montana’s economy, and threaten the integrity of our public lands, and there’s no place for it in Montana.
We’ll continue to fight against transfer, and we hope you’ll join us. Please take a minute to send an email to your representative telling them why transfer has no place in Montana. And you can find more details about the newest transfer legislation here.
Next week, the melliflously named Appropriations/Finance and Claims Joint Subcommittee on Long Range Planning will meet to discuss, among other things, the future of Habitat Montana, the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition, and the new Somers Beach State Park.
These are three initiatives that are critical pieces of Montana's public lands puzzle. In his budget, Gov. Gianforte proposed funding all three at appropriate and necessary levels, but now the legislature needs to do its part and not try to cut the budget of these important access, habitat protection, and conservation programs.
That's why we're asking folks who live in key districts to call their legislators and tell them just why maintaing funding for Habitat Montana, the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition proposal, and Somers Beach State Park is so important. While these might not be the most well-known access and conservation initiatives, they're critical aspects of protecting our wildlife and ensuring that all Montanans have safe and equitable access to public lands.
If you live in any of these key districts, please take a few minutes to learn more and send a message to your legislator today.
On Thursday Jan. 21, the Senate Fish and Game Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 115, which threatens the public access that Montanans depend on. Introduced by Sen. Keith Regier (R-Kalispell), SB115 would require the Montana Land Board to approve all conservation easements purchased by the state of Montana. This would make it harder for willing landowners to conserve their lands and provide public access. It would add an unnecessary layer of red tape to the easement process. It would put important conservation and access decisions in the hands of bureaucrats instead of experts. And it could stop once-in-a-lifetime conservation opportunities before they start.
State lands are one of the missing pieces of Montana's public lands puzzle, and protecting them is a critical part of providing access for quiet recreation and stitching together critical wildlands that allow wildlife to thrive. We need to make it easier for the state to acquire and protect private lands, not harder, and we need to make it easier for landowners to protect their lands and provide access if they so desire. Bills like SB115 go against the will of Montanans, who've spoken up time and time again about the importance of securing access and habitat, and state lawmakers who campaigned as public lands champions need to speak up against this sort of bad legislation.
Here's what you can do: we're connecting citizens with key senators on the Senate Fish and Game Committee, which has the power to stop SB115 in its tracks.
Here are the senators we're asking people like you to call. Remember: PLEASE only call a senator if you live in their district. If you're not sure, you can look up your legislator and senate district here.
- Sen. Mark Blasdel, SD-4, Kalispell
- Sen. Bob Keenan, SD-5, Bigfork
- Sen. Greg Hertz, SD-6, Polson
- Sen. Bob Brown, SD-7, Thompson Falls
If you DO live in any of these districts, please take a few minutes to call your senator today. It's going to take all of us to protect our public lands during this session, and now's a great time to get started!
This afternoon, Governor Gianforte released his state budget for the next two years. While the overall budget decreases state spending significantly, it maintains important funding for key public lands and conservation programs like Habitat Montana, our state's flagship wildlife habitat and public access program. However, the budget does divert funding from the sale of recreational marijuana, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November, away from public lands initiatives. Voters made it clear that they expected this revenue to benefit the access, recreation, habitat, and public lands infrastructure that Montanans have depended on for generations, and we'll fight to make sure this revenue is allocated as Montanans intended.
Here's a statement from State Policy Director Noah Marion about the governor's new budget:
"We thank Governor Gianforte for taking steps in his budget to increase funding for critical public land access and conservation programs, particularly Habitat Montana and improved public access along the Lower Yellowstone River and Flathead Lake. Now, we call on the legislature to follow through on the governor's budget.
While we're pleased that the governor has honored his campaign promises to invest in public lands, we're disappointed that he has chosen to direct recreational marijuana revenue away from critical public lands initiatives. While we applaud the creation of the HEART fund, it's essential that we support public access and recreational infrastructure for hikers, hunters, anglers, and other recreationists - and respect the will of Montana voters - by investing in and protecting our outdoor way of life and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports. We look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to craft a budget that will support the needs of all Montanans."
The best way to make sure that our public lands stay well-funded is to join our State Legislative Action Team. We'll send you occasional text messages at key points, making it easy for you to contact your legislators and tell them to defend our public lands.
Original post, Jan. 7: The 2021 Legislature is Here
There's a lot happening in short order during the legislative session, and we're committed to tracking all the developments and making it easy for you to stay informed.
To make following along easy, we’ll be posting regular updates right here about new legislation, developments in the Capitol, and what YOU can do to make sure the Legislature is acting in the best interests of our wild public lands. We’ll also be providing expert analysis and key links to help you stay on top of things, so bookmark this page and check back often - things more pretty quickly during the session.
We’ll also be posting updates regularly on social media, so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for all the latest.
It’s going to be a busy session, and your voice is going to be a huge part of protecting the wildlands we love.
One of the best ways you can participate is by joining our State Legislative Action Team. We'll text you when YOUR senator or representative is a key player, so you’ll only hear from us when YOUR voice will make the most impact.
We have a lot of opportunities to protect Montana’s wild public lands, wildlife, clean water, and natural beauty this session, and we're excited to have you on the team.