By Amy R. Sisk UM Community News Service

HELENA – Lawmakers have floated several ideas to combat the so-called “dark money” responsible for many of the attack ads during the 2012 election. Now it’s the governor’s turn.

In a press conference last week, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, unveiled their bipartisan plan to shed light on anonymous campaign contributions.

“The act will shut down the dark money groups and will prevent them from hiding behind their tax status,” Bullock said.

Bullock and Peterson are calling their measure the Transparency, Reporting and Accountability in Elections and Campaigns (TRACE) Act. Under the bill, any political organization that mentions a candidate’s name would have to disclose its donors, including federally recognized nonprofits.

The bill would prohibit corporations and unions from donating directly to candidates. Those that sponsor so-called independent ads calling for a candidate’s defeat would have to report the names of board members and shareholders owning more than 10 percent of the company’s stock.

Donors who give more than $2,000 in two years to groups that make political expenditures would be subject to disclosure.

The bill would increase the amount individuals can donate, allowing candidates for governor to accept up to $2,000 from a political committee or individual. Candidates for statewide races could accept up to $1,000, and other candidates up to $500.

The measure also would remove limits on money a legislative candidate can accept from political committees.

Peterson said the TRACE Act would guarantee a more open government.

“The beauty of this bill is that it treats everyone alike,” he said.

In a prepared response, Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said he looks forward to discussing the proposal, but stressed that Montanans elected legislators to focus on solutions that will make it easier to find jobs.

“While the political theater surrounding campaign finance legislation provides great fodder for Helena insiders, we need to remember Montanans sent us here to address real problems affecting their jobs and our state’s economy,” he said.

Here’s a look back at other highlights from week six:

Physician-Assisted Suicide

A Missoula lawmaker is renewing an effort to ensure the legality of physician-assisted suicide. A similar measure failed to pass the 2011 Legislature.

Sen. Dick Barrett, a Democrat, is sponsoring Senate Bill 220 to clarify Montana’s end-of-life law following a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Proponents said the court’s decision did not legalize physician-assisted suicide; rather, it stated that physician-assisted suicide was already legal. SB 220 would guide doctors so they don’t have to make sense of the lengthy court ruling, they said.

The measure would allow doctors to prescribe end-of-life treatment to terminally ill patients, but it would not require that they do so.

“Just as we respect the autonomy and privacy of patients to make their own decisions based on their own values and beliefs, we must respect providers in the same way and not require them to do anything against their conscience,” Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But opponents said the bill could lead to elder abuse and deprive patients of the opportunity to live long lives if their prognoses were incorrect.

Washington and Oregon are the only other states to allow physician-assisted suicide. Voters approved both laws through ballot measures.

Death Penalty

Lawmakers heard powerful stories on both sides of the death penalty debate during a hearing on House Bill 370, a renewed effort to abolish the practice.

A man from Detroit told the House Judiciary Committee he had been wrongly accused of murder in 1974 and was nine days away from the gas chamber when the real murderer experienced an epiphany and confessed to the crime. Now an advocate of the abolition of the death penalty, Ronald Keine said that what happened to him could happen to anyone, and he cannot trust the government with his life.

On the other side of the debate, Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, told the committee about the torture and murder of his 17-year-old son. He said that the threat of the death penalty helped prosecutors obtain a guilty plea from their son’s murderer, thus preventing a lengthy and emotionally draining trial.

Medical Marijuana

An effort to clarify Montana’s contentious 2011 medical marijuana law was blocked last week when the House Human Services Committee tabled four bills.

A district judge has placed an injunction on several parts of the 2011 law, effectively preventing several provisions from taking effect until the court makes an official ruling.

Those provisions – addressed by House Bills 340, 341, 342 and 343 – would remove the requirement for a review of physicians who write more than 25 medical marijuana prescriptions, allow for the compensation of medical marijuana providers, remove limits on the number of patients a provider can serve, and eliminate recordkeeping requirements and unannounced inspections.

The bills’ sponsor, Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, had wanted to wipe those provisions from the current law. He and others argued the changes would save time and money in court proceedings and legal fees.

Opponents said the 2011 law, upheld by voters in November, is working to keep the industry under control in Montana and stressed that the court should make final decisions on the provisions.

Abortion

Right to life advocates want the Legislature to take parental notification before a minor has an abortion one step further.

Voters approved parental notification in November, with 71 percent voting in favor. Now House Bill 391, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, would require that a parent give permission for a child under 18 to have an abortion.

Proponents told the House Judiciary Committee the bill would empower parents to protect their children by encouraging conversations about a pregnant daughter’s options. They argued that teens often do not pass along important medical information to doctors because they do not know their medical histories. They also said parents can help identify medical complications that result from an abortion.

Those who opposed the measure said it violates an individual’s right to privacy and could lead to more teens engaging in unsafe abortions away from a medical clinic. They also said that most teens – upward of 90 percent – who have an abortion discuss their decision with their parents.

Medicaid Expansion

A Butte Democrat wants Montana to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, which would serve an estimated 70,000 uninsured Montanans.

At a press conference last week, Rep. Pat Noonan said House Bill 458 could lead to 5,000 new health care jobs in its first year.

“If we refuse this opportunity, some other state is going to expand their health coverage for their citizens on the backs of Montana taxpayers and on the backs of our local hospitals,” he said.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, each state must choose whether to accept federal money to expand the low-income health care program. The federal government would pick up the tab for the first three years; then states would gradually increase their contributions until they pay 10 percent in 2020.

Noonan said he thinks some Republicans will back the measure. So far, Republican governors in six states have said they support Medicaid expansion.

Reporter Amy Sisk can be reached at (425) 466-6633 or amy.sisk@umontana.edu. Follow @amyrsisk on Twitter for the latest from the Capitol.