Montana Democrats came up 11 votes short Monday in their effort to salvage a bill that would expand the list of groups protected under the state's hate-crimes law to include gay people. The law already makes it a crime to intimidate or harass someone based on race, religion, color, creed, or national origin.
Those wanting the measure rescued from the house judiciary committee said the issue is important enough to warrant debate by the full house and not just the 18 members of the committee. No one argued against resurrecting House Bill 52, but 51 lawmakers--all Republicans--voted against the move. The 49 votes to keep the bill alive did not reach the 60 needed. Just two GOP representatives--Carol Lambert of Broadus and Bernie Olson of Lakeside--sided with the 47 Democrats in supporting the measure.
This is the sixth consecutive legislative session in which lawmakers have rejected this proposal. Rep. Brad Newman (D-Butte) said the holiday marking the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was an appropriate day to take a stand on the bill because the bill embraces King's philosophies. "Justice is indivisible," he said. "We cannot provide protection for some segments of our community while denying justice for others."
Newman dismissed claims that the bill would afford "special protection" for certain people. "There's nothing special about wanting to live free from fear and violence," he said.