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City Desk

Five to follow: Week of Feb. 11 at the Montana Legislature


By Leia Larsen, Montana Free Press



HELENA — Lawmakers will take on prescription drug abuse, pregnant inmates, betting on old horse races, grizzly bears and a slew of other topics in their sixth week of the 2019 Montana Legislative Session.


All committee hearings are open to the public, and anyone can comment in favor or opposition to a bill. Alternatively, committee hearings can be streamed live on the Montana Legislative Branch website.


Here’s our pick of five topics to follow this week, with two bonus bills.



DOJ looks to put the brakes on substance abuse

Montana law enforcement officials will rally in support of two bills addressing prescription drugs.


House Bill 86 requires a patient to show a photo ID before picking up prescriptions. It places a seven-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions. That limitation wouldn’t apply to chronic pain patients. The bill also requires doctors to use the Montana Prescription Drug Registry, with the goal of preventing patients from “doctor shopping,” according to John Barnes with the Montana Department of Justice. DOJ requested the bill, and Rep. Vince Ricci, R-Laurel, is carrying it.


Attorney General Tim Fox will speak in support of HB 86 during a hearing in the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety Committee on Monday, Jan. 11. The hearing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. in Room 317.

Also on Monday, the Montana Highway Patrol will hold a demonstration in support of a bill overhauling the state’s DUI laws. Senate Bill 65 requires a blood test for a DUI suspect who refuses a breathalyzer, increases the penalties for DUI offenders, and eliminates a 10-year “lookback” for previous DUI offenses.


Under current law, if a driver gets a DUI but does not re-offend for 10 years, that first DUI isn’t counted in subsequent convictions. The Governor’s Office of Budget and Policy Planning expects the amount of second and subsequent DUI offenses will grow by 10 percent if SB 65 goes into effect. The bill does not change the state’s current blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent for non-commercial drivers.


SB 65 had its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 22, but has yet to see a vote. Montana Highway Patrol will hold a “wet lab” for committee members at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11.


“In order to dispel certain myths that often hinder DUI reform, the wet lab event will aim to demonstrate that 1) a .08 blood alcohol level is impaired, and 2) having one or two standard-sized drinks with a meal over the course of an hour or so will not bring most to the .08 limit,” Barnes said in an email.


Barnes said the wet lab will be a “scientific and controlled process,” and that participants won’t be allowed to leave the Capitol without a designated driver or without blowing a zero on a breathalyzer test.



Bill establishes rights for pregnant inmates


Montana has almost twice as many incarcerated women than the national average, according to a 2013 reportby the ACLU of Montana. About 6 percent of those women are pregnant.


House Bill 375 would create standards of care for expectant women in detention centers and state prisons. Female inmates 12 to 50 years old would be offered a pregnancy test on admission. Pregnant women would receive routine prenatal care and access to nutrition. Pregnant inmates with opioid abuse problems would have access to treatment. The bill bars the use of restraints on a pregnant inmate during labor and delivery. It also addresses postpartum treatment and breastfeeding.


Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, is carrying the bill. HB 375 will have its first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, in Room 137.



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