Pride, Human Rights Network recap legislative session
Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson
Montana Human Rights Network organizer and legislative advocate Jamee Greer of Helena talks about what the Montana Human Rights Network is about during a meeting in the Montana State University-Northern Student Union Building Thursday evening in support of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals.
Representatives of Montana human rights organizations said during a meeting in Havre Thursday that while the 2011 Legislature was not supporting those rights, in their opinion, things could have been much worse.
Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network said his group and affiliated organizations opposed 39 bills, with 35 dying including 11 under Gov. Brian Schweitzer's veto.
"So the session wasn't bad for us, " he said.
Greer and Caitlin Copple of the Pride Foundation traveled to Havre to introduce their groups and discuss the legislative session in a meeting sponsored by Havreites Terry and Kathy Sather, Karen Datko and Pam Hillery, a member of Havre's City Council.
About a dozen people, including the organizers, attended the meeting.
"We're thrilled to see that there are people in Havre who do support the idea of a safe and well community for all people, " Copple said.
Part of the discussion at the meeting included action by Havre Reps. Wendy Warburton and Kris Hansen, including bills by Warburton to create local militias and limit abortion access and define a person as starting from conception and Hansen's bill to overturn a Missoula city ordinance protecting the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. Those bills died. Hillery said that, while Havre is not one of the worst communities for acceptance of homosexuals, there is work to be done.
"I believe that there are still some real obstacles to acceptance of the gay people in our community, " Hillery said while introducing the meeting.
"Everybody should be comfortable with who they are and never feel that there's going to be any retribution associated with it, " she added.
Greer said much of the early work in the Legislature this year had a very narrow, militia-like tea party focus, which greatly concerned the Montana Human Rights Network.
He commented on bills — and the attitude — of the House Judicial Committee, on which Hansen and Warburton sat.
"The final thing is, and your legislators in this area were very complicit in this, the final takeaway is that the public wasn't necessarily valued, " he said. "I dont know why I said that so nicely. Actually the public was not valued, public input was not valued at all in this session, in any way. "
He said during heated hearings, 50 to 70 people would show up to talk about their belief that their rights would be taken away — including access to abortions, to not be racially profiled, to be a member of the LGBT community — and were turned away.
For Hansen's bill that would have overturned Missoula's LGBT ordinance, 60 people drove over a mountain pass in the middle of winter and were given 10 minutes to testify, he said.
Greer also said the Republicans were vocal — including Warburton — about using initiatives to bring conservative voters out to the poll in the next election. He said the Human Rights Foundation is very concerned about several initiatives its members feel could hurt human rights and civil rights in the state.
Several in the group said they were unhappy with the representation given them by the Republicans elected in 2009.
Bruce Patera said Warburton and Hansen and Repblican Sen. Rowlie Hutton, who was the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Christian Church when elected, were from a very focused group presenting their religious views.
"That raises questions about the separation of church and state, " he added.
"Their constituents had one agenda rammed down their throats, the agenda of one particular church," he said.