Social Bills Bring the Familiar and the New

By Beacon Staff

Employment and the economy might be on the minds of many Montana legislators and residents, but the 62nd Legislature will also see a host of bills dealing with the state’s approach to social issues.

Some of the subjects, such as abortion and repealing the death penalty, are perennial legislative battlegrounds. Others, like medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide, look as though they will play bigger roles in this session than in the past.

While many social issues come before lawmakers during their three-month stint in Helena, here are some of the major subjects candidates discussed during their campaigns:

ABORTION

A familiar combat zone for many lawmakers, there are typically multiple attempts to alter Montana’s laws related to abortion, generally sponsored by Republicans.

So far this session, there are at least six attempts to adjust abortion laws. Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, has sponsored Senate Bill 97, which would enact the “Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 2011.”

Similar to a failed bill from the 2009 session, the law would mean a physician could not perform an abortion on a minor without giving at least one parent or guardian 48 hours notice. A judge could overrule the necessity for notice under certain circumstances.

Other, unintroduced abortion bills include:

• Rep. Pat Ingraham, R-Thompson Falls, is sponsoring a bill that would require an ultrasound prior to an abortion procedure.

• Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, has a bill that seeks to regulate family planning clinics.

• Rep. Michael More’s, R-Gallatin Gateway, bill would provide abortion screenings to “prevent provider negligence and patient coercion.”

DEATH PENALTY

There may only be one bill seeking to abolish Montana’s death penalty so far, but it will undoubtedly be the subject of lengthy, emotional debate. Last session’s attempt, Senate Bill 236, passed the Senate, but was tabled in House committee.

This year, Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, will sponsor a bill seeking to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole. The bill is still being drafted.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

As one of the most pervasive topics in the bills proposed so far, medical marijuana has garnered the attention of at least 18 lawmakers. The topic caught fire in 2010 with the medical marijuana industry’s rapid growth and climbing numbers of “green card” holders, attracting the attention of many campaigning politicians.

One of the most comprehensive bills, House Bill 68, looks to revise the Medical Marijuana Act in several ways, including: “licensing and regulatory system for people who grow, manufacture, distribute; clarifying requirements for physicians who provide written certification; providing local government authority to regulate medical marijuana licensees; establishing prohibitions on the medical use of marijuana by certain people,” among others.

Rep. Diane Sands, R-Missoula, and Rep. Gary MacLaren R-Victor introduced HB 68.

Some lawmakers, such as Shockley, House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade and Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, seek to repeal the Medical Marijuana Act all together.

Other bills aimed at medical marijuana include:

• House Bill 82, also from Sands, would mandate that the state Board of Medical Examiners give an annual report on the number and types of complaints involving physicians providing medical marijuana certification.

• Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, has a bill aimed at regulating the provider supply system.

• Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, would like to ban synthetic marijuana.

• Rep. Cynthia Hinter, D-Deer Lodge, has a bill to provide for medical marijuana revenue.

PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE

Last December, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that state law couldn’t prohibit a doctor from prescribing the lethal drugs to mentally competent, terminally ill patients.

Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, has a bill in the works that would implement the court’s ruling in state law. But on the other side, Rep. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls, has drafted a bill that would prohibit physician-assisted suicide.

So far, both bills are unintroduced, but will most likely be major topics of debate if they make it to committee.

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