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The Montana House of Representatives

The Montana House of Representatives during the 66th legislative session.

The Montana House on Tuesday passed a set of rules containing a sexual harassment policy that includes protections for victims, although Republicans and Democrats disagree of their strength.

Over the last 18 months, a group of lawmakers created a sexual harassment policy, something a legislator revealed Friday was not only in response to the national #MeToo movement but also to a complaint against a Montana lawmaker from the 2017 session.

Last week a Republican brought changes to the rules that removed a part of the policy listing 18 categories that are protected from harassment. The change instead references the Montana Human Rights Act, with Sen. Fred Thomas, a Republican from Stevensville, saying that gives a more broad definition of who is protected from harassment and discrimination.

Democrats argue that does not provide protections based on sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression, which are not mentioned in the act.

Rep. Derek Skees, a Republican from the Flathead, said Tuesday by removing a specific list of protected classes, the anti-discrimination and harassment policy was made more broad.

But Democrat Rep. Kim Abbott, of Helena, argued it put some people at risk. Still, Abbott voted for the rules, saying she reluctantly supported them because a process for handling harassment and discrimination needed to be in place.

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Another amendment last week from Sen. Keith Regier, a Republican from Kalispell, changed a requirement that's been in place since 2013 to require legal notes on bills be posted along with the bill on the Legislature's website. The notes, which flag any constitutional concerns, are still public but only available to a bill sponsor or by request.

Democrats tried and failed on the House floor Tuesday to reverse those changes.

Skees said legislators often change bills based on legal reviews, but notes that raising concerns attached to bills could taint perception of the legislation going forward. Rep. Tom Woods, a Democrat from Bozeman, said posting the note with their bill was important for public transparency and the change marks a step backward.

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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