HELENA (AP) – Democrats on Monday tried unsuccessfully to “blast” four tabled bills to the Senate and House floors, including one that would ban discrimination against gay people.
With a full gallery of supporters, Sen. Christine Kaufmann, of Helena, attempted to get Senate Bill 179 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was tabled in January. A blast motion allows lawmakers the chance to bring tabled bills out of committee if at least 26 of 50 senators agree to it. She asked that the bill be put to a vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The measure would prohibit discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by adding the words “gender identity and expression and sexual orientation” to the state’s Human Rights Act. The act currently bans discrimination based on race, creed, religion, color, sex, physical or mental disability, age or national origin in situations such as housing or employment.
“This really is the civil rights issue of our time,” Kaufmann said, adding she’s been working on this measure since her tenure at the Legislature began nearly 16 years ago. “We can support nondiscrimination.”
Republican Sen. Scott Sales asked lawmakers to respect the decision of the committee to table the measure. Tabling a bill often signals its death.
“We had a very thorough and nonbiased hearing,” the Bozeman lawmaker said.
The motion failed along party lines, 21-29.
Rep. Bryce Bennett, of Missoula, moved to blast a tabled bill to the House floor that would remove same-sex couples from a list of prohibited marriages. House Bill 282 required 60 votes for a successful blast but failed by a vote of 43-57. Two Republicans, Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, of Billings, and Rep. Mike Miller, of Helmville, broke from their party and voted in favor.
“I was optimistic that we could pass a bill this session to recognize marriage equality and remove discrimination from our laws,” Bennett said in an email to The Associated Press. “The courts and the people of Montana have gotten onboard. It’s time for the Legislature to catch up.”
Motions to blast Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy’s bill to raise the minimum wage and Sen. Diane Sands’ measure to advance pay equality by allowing employees to discuss their wages without penalty also failed along party lines in the Senate.