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Unborn babies, immigration status, wolves, among House discussions

As bills move forward in the 2013 Legislature for debate and votes, one item discussed at a legislative video conference seems to be changing.

Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said last week that bills had been passing 99-0, 98-0 — but people should not expect that to last.

"We haven't offended anybody yet, so it's still going, " she said from Helena during Tuesday's video conference.

But bills now are hitting the floor with more of a party-line slant, including a bill passed Monday with the Havre-area Republican representatives voting for it and the Democratic representative against, and a bill opposed by pro-choice advocates and supported by pro-life advocates passing out of committee with the vote of a local Republican.

That bill, House Bill 104, "Criminalizing offenses involving the death of an unborn child, " passed out of the House Judiciary Committee Friday on a 12-8 vote with Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, voting in favor.

Warburton told the Havre Daily News in an email interview Monday that the opposition is misguided.

"It is distressing to see groups that purport to be 'women's activism groups' and yet oppose bills such as this, which protect justice for women, their children, and their families when those women are the victims of violent crimes, " she said in the email.

She added that groups could have proposed their own bill on the subject, and that the sponsor "bent over backward to ensure to make it as fair and reasonable to all concerned as possible. "

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, defines an unborn child as a human who has been conceived and not yet born, and adds that term to the definition of deliberate homicide and mitigated homicide. The bill originally excluded emergency medical care and lawful medical procedures from the definition of homicide, but has been amended.

The bill as amended now prohibits prosecution of a person when an abortion is performed with the consent of the mother, a person when medical treatment is provided for the mother or her unborn child and the mother in the case of her unborn child's death.

Kim Leighton, program director with NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, said in a release after the committee vote, that the attempt to insert "unborn child" into Montana's criminal code, adds to political overtones into the discussion of protecting pregnant women from violence. It will create a "floodgate of tension between Montana law and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that protects a woman's right to make personal, private medical decisions, " she said.

"Lawmakers should take strong steps to protect women and must recognize the unique tragedy suffered by a woman whose pregnancy is lost or harmed as a result of violence, " Leighton said. "Unfortunately, House Bill 104 simply is not about prosecuting those who would harm a pregnant woman; rather, its focus lies entirely on inserting abortion rhetoric into our state criminal code. The true goal of this legislation is clear: entangle the state unnecessarily in the abortion debate. "

Hansen said the bill is to protect all involved, and she completely supports it.

"If a pregnant woman is beaten up in a violent attack, or worse, killed in a violent attack, and her baby also dies, today the law would only count the mother's death as a homicide, " she said in an emailed interview. "The baby is not protected under the law. "

"I think that is the wrong approach, " Hansen added.

She said the bill changes law to protect fathers as well as mothers.

"I think fathers frequently get left out of the discussion, " Hansen said. "The whole family suffers a loss when a crime like this happens. One can't have a pregnant mother without having an expecting father. "

A bill that appears to be creating some party-line conflict also passed the House Monday on a 59-41 vote.

Warburton and Hansen voted for House Bill 50, which would "Prohibit immigration sanctuary policies by local governments, " while Rep. Clarena Brockie, D-Harlem, voted against it.

The bill prohibits local governments from creating a policy that prevents or restricts law enforcement or local from checking a person's immigration status.

Supporters, including sponsor, Rep. David Howard, R-Park City, say the bill would ensure local governments enforce federal law and help prevent crime and other problems they say illegal immigration is bringing to Montana.

Opponents of the bill say illegal immigration is not a problem in Montana and local governments should be able to set their own priorities.

Warburton applauded a bill that passed unanimously out of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee on which she sits that changes the regulation of wolf hunting. The bill passed the House on a second reading 100-0 Friday and was referred to the Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 73, requested by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and introduced by Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, allows hunters to take more than one wolf in a season, allows the use of electronic calls for wolf hunting, reduces the time a hunter must wait between buying a license and bagging a wolf from five days down to 24 hours, eliminates the requirement of wearing hunter orange when hunting wolves outside of the big game season and forbids the creation of buffer zones preventing wolf hunting or trapping around the edges of national parks.

The Appropriations Committee scheduled a hearing on the bill today.

Warburton also said she is continuing to work on introducing legislation that would name a portion of a highway in Blaine County in memory of slain Blaine County Undersheriff Pat Pyette, killed in December 2011 from injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle while directing traffic east of Chinook, and Blaine County Deputy Josh Rutherford, killed in May 2003 during a shootout while trying to arrest a suspect.

Warburton said she is trying to have the bill introduced and scheduled for a hearing on a Friday in the next couple of weeks.

"(That would) make it easier for people to travel to Helena in support of it, " Warburton said. "I invite and welcome interested local individuals to do so. "

Warburton looks to ease tensions between FWP, landowners

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, is trying to bring representatives of the state hunting and fishing agency to an interim session to address concerns of Montana landowners.

Warburton said in an email interview with the Havre Daily News Monday that she is working on a bill that would direct Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to appear before the Environmental Quality Council interim committee, which has oversight of the department between sessions.

She will invite landowners and property right and agricultural groups from around the state to work with the committee on improving relations between FWP and landowners and advocate for legislation to do so.

"I greatly encourage landowners in Hill and Blaine County to participate and bring their ideas to the table, " Warburton said, adding, "I also urge them to plan to attend the hearing in support of this bill. "

Warburton said she has heard a number of concerns raised by landowners including the recent statewide headlines about the state purchase of thousands of acres in Hill County.

"In recent years, land owners in our area have felt trampled by their own government with FWP actions such as working to transport Yellowstone bison into Blaine County and purchasing more and more productive agricultural land around the state, including large ranches such as the Milk River Ranch, " Warburton said. "In response, they have closed tens of thousands of acres to hunting, in an effort to make their voices heard. "


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