Reflections on the 2023 Legislative Session

By Shannon James, 
2023 Legislative & Organizing Fellow with the Montana Chapter

I came into my first legislative session with a sense of eagerness. I was excited to focus on the process of how legislation was being formed in Montana. It quickly became clear how much power the Republican Supermajority held in this process. The current MT Republican party held the special interests of industry far above the voices of their constituents in this legislature and pumped their agendas through both chambers at lightning speed. That agenda attacked basic human rights. Ignoring climate impacts that threaten our current and future generations, while forcing birth of child-bearing people. It was easy to get overwhelmed by the high volume of egregious bills moving forward,but thankfully there were some victories! One of the biggest was that no bills aimed at changing Montana’s constitution passed, thanks to the hard work of so many Montanans in showing up to push back at rallies in the Capitol (including the “Protect our Home” rally in January), making calls, sending messages, writing letters to the editor, and lobbying their legislators. Also, HB 643 and SB 97 both would have disincentivized renewable energy in Montana, but both were tabled!

There were a number of bills threatening wildlife, clean air, clean water, a stable climate, and just, equitable communities in Montana. Legislators and Governor Gianforte continuously ignored the voices of Montanans who were in opposition of these harmful bills and allowed special interests to steamroll over the concerns of their constituents. Bills aimed at limiting local climate action, SB 208, SB 228, and SB 178, were all signed into law. While listening in to hearings, I was shocked at the lack of expertise and obvious negligence. Some legislators have no concern of the real impacts these laws will have, but rather a motivation of personal economic gain from the industry on behalf the bills were written for. The most clear example of this was all the legislators who amended their own rules to introduce HB 971 late in the session seemingly to rescue NorthWestern Energy's endeavors to construct a costly and environmentally harmful gas plant in Laurel, while also averting any future legal triumphs on comparable grounds. Though the passing of these bad bills is disheartening, the fight is not over. As the snowpack continues to decline and the drought and wildfire season continues to intensify, we have to keep fighting for climate action! 

Thankfully the session is ending with a beacon of hope, with the Held v Montana case just around the corner! This is the first time a constitutional climate case has ever gone to trial. These 16 young plaintiffs are making history by suing the state of Montana for violating their constitutional right for a clean and healthful environment. The trial begins June 12th in Helena, and the youth plaintiffs need your support! Learn more about the case and how you can get involved here

Two people stand in front of the Montana State Capitol
Shannon and Delia (spring intern with the Montana Chapter) pose outside the Montana State Capitol after testifying against local preemption bills.