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Gianforte signs into law insulin cap, bill preventing private contributions to elections

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The Office of the Governor in the Montana State Capitol in Helena on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. PHOTO BY MIKE CLARK

Other bills signed into law included legislation on bullying, bar civil liability and gun non-discrimination

By Nicole Girten DAILY MONTANAN

Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law a bill that would limit the insurance co-payment for insulin in Montana, among dozens of other pieces of legislation, with more than 100 bills still awaiting his signature.

Senate Bill 340, introduced in the 2023 session by Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, caps the insurance copay on a 30-day supply of insulin at $35. A similar measure was introduced in the 2021 session, but failed.

According to a 2015 Johns Hopkins study, insulin can often cost anywhere from $120 to $400 per month without prescription drug insurance.

Alison Sharkey-Hines testified in committee that her son, who was born premature and died at two weeks old, might still be here if she had access to affordable insulin. She said in a text Monday that the bill becoming law was “fantastic news.”

Gianforte signed the bill last week, and it is effective Jan. 1, 2024.

Elections

Gianforte also signed into law a bill that would prevent private donations to elections offices in the state, with limited exceptions for tribes donating space, volunteer hours or their own funds for elections purposes.

The bill came about following the “Zuckerbucks” conspiracy, a phrase that stems from election skeptic circles surrounding a $350 million donation from Mark Zuckerberg to the nonprofit Center for Technology and Civic Life during the 2020 election. The skeptics believe the money influenced the outcome of the election.

Bill sponsor Sen. Shelly Vance, R-Belgrade, mentioned a report titled “Zuckerbucks in Montana” during her testimony in committee from a group called the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which is known for suing government entities to purge voter rolls. Violators of Senate Bill 117 can spend up to 10 years in prison or pay a fine up to $50,000.

A bill to prohibit noncitizens from voting, which is already illegal across the U.S., was also signed into law. Sponsored by Rep. Zach Wirth, R-Wolf Creek, House Bill 712 was introduced after two Philippine citizens were referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for allegedly falsifying voter registration forms in 2021 in Phillips County.

Guns non-discrimination, bar liability and bullying

Gianforte also signed two other bills that sparked debate in the legislature: House Bill 356,  which would prohibit the state from contracting with companies that have policies against working with firearm trade associations or entities; and House Bill 450, which purports to allow kids to defend themselves physically against bullies in school.

HB 356, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Ler, R-Savage, was endorsed by Attorney General Austin Knudsen when it was heard in committee, where he called out financial institutions like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase for increasingly denying services to an “extremely highly regulated industry” because they “happen to be engaged in the Second Amendment.”

The only Republican to vote against the bill on the House floor, Rep. John Fitzpatrick, R-Anaconda, who said he saw it conflicted with another bill Republicans endorsed that prevented environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing in Montana.

“With ESG investing, the Democrats love it because it injects liberal values into the corporate decision-making process,” Fitzpatrick said during a Republican caucus before the vote. “Now we come around here today with a bill that wants to do exactly the same thing, but since it’s a Republican idea, it’s acceptable.”

The bill to allow kids to hit their bullies back was critiqued as not being workable in real classroom settings. Rep. Eric Matthews, D-Bozeman, who has been an educator for more than 20 years, said on the House floor fights in schools don’t happen in front of cameras, and kids could make it seem like another kid started the fight and make themselves the victim.

HB 450, sponsored by Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, has a July 1 effective date.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick’s bill on limiting bar owners’ civil liability for overserving patrons was also signed into law.

Senate Bill 107 limits permissible evidence in civil cases to exclude the overserved patron’s blood alcohol content. Fitzpatrick said on the Senate floor this is because there is no way to know in real time what that data point is, and it’s a “judgment call.”

The bill would also limit damages, both punitive and non-economic, like emotional distress, to $250,000 per incident.

Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, critiqued the measure as an “insurance bailout bill” during debate.

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