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PNS - Thursday, April 27, 2023 - House Republicans pass a debt limit bill tied to extensive spending cuts, the Montana House votes to censure a transgender lawmaker, and calls grow for a code of conduct and term limits for Supreme Court justices.
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PNS - Thursday, April 27, 2023 - Oregon nurses rally in Seaside as hospitals struggle to keep staff, the U.S. House passes a GOP debt limit bill, and the Texas Ag Department demands employees dress according to their "biological gender."
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APRIL 24, 2023
Police in riot gear push protesters out of the Montana House gallery on Monday, April 24, 2023. (Photo by Keila Szpaller, Daily Montanan)
Law enforcement officers from three agencies detained several people Monday after protesting in the gallery of the Montana House against the Republican Speaker’s silencing of Missoula Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr.
A Lewis and Clark County sheriff’s deputy said eight people were inside the jail awaiting booking for criminal trespassing around 5:30 p.m., Monday. People who were at the protests originally said they believe six to 10 people had been detained.
Around 7:20 p.m., one person who had been detained, Paul Kim, was released; Kim estimated seven people had been arrested.
Zephyr, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, and more than a dozen others who participated in the protest were at the jail late Monday afternoon awaiting the release of those who were detained.
More than 100 people had gathered at a rally on the Capitol stairs at noon Monday to protest House Speaker Matt Regier’s ongoing ruling that Zephyr will not be recognized on the House floor until she apologizes for telling Republicans last week they would have “blood on (their) hands” if they voted to support a bill banning gender-affirming care in Montana.
Zephyr, who is Montana’s first openly transgender lawmaker, has tried multiple times over the past week to speak on the floor about bills involving the LGBTQ+ community and housing but has been denied by rulings from Regier and votes from most House Republicans.
Several extra Montana Highway patrolmen stood in the Speaker’s lobby, on the House floor, and in the gallery at the start of the floor session during the afternoon. Toward the back end of the session, Zephyr again tried to speak during discussion on a bill on parental rights involving school children, but was again denied.
Democrats stood up to protest, as they have on each occasion since a rules debate last week, and the House again had to vote whether to uphold Regier’s ruling that she was out of order and not abiding by the chamber’s decorum rules.
Republicans except for Reps. Greg Frazer of Deer Lodge, Casey Knudsen of Malta and David Bedey of Hamilton, voted to support Regier’s ongoing ruling.
After Democrats in the House stood up to support Zephyr, a person in the gallery yelled, “bulls—t.”
At that point, dozens of people who had been at the rally and who had packed the House gallery, started to shout down to the floor, yelling, “Let Zooey speak,” which comes from a social media movement that has drawn momentum in the past week.
“Let her speak.” “Let her speak.” “Let Zooey speak.”
As more people started to chant, the several Montana Highway Patrol, Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office officers that were stationed around the House for the floor session started to try to quiet the protesters.
House lawmakers were moved to the wings of the chamber. Most Democrats remained, as Zephyr stood alone in the middle of the floor with her hand and a microphone raised in the air, watching and thanking the many people yelling in support.
Republicans largely left the chamber after a few minutes.
Once most were gone, officers in riot gear were brought in through the House floor and up to the gallery. Several protesters were seen being detained before the riot officers arrived. But once they made it to the north side gallery, they started to push protesters out of the gallery.
Protestors chanted as security officers detained people and tried to clear the room, and protestors stomped their feet to the cry.
“Whose house? Our house.” “Whose house? Our house.”
“We pay your bills.”
At the start of the floor session, Regier had asked people in the gallery to refrain from cheering or booing.
“The gallery is for observing only,” Regier said.
Many left filming the scene with their phones.
At least five law enforcement officers in riot gear eventually used batons to forcibly push people out of the gallery. Downstairs, some representatives remained on the floor and witnessed the protest.
Officers detained more people after they cleared the room.
Several people involved in the protest said afterward some of the officers hit people with shields and batons as they forced protesters out of the gallery.
They were forced out of the gallery and downstairs, where several were seen being handcuffed with zip ties and seated near the Capitol’s south entrance. The protesters said their compatriots were not fighting back with officers.
Two people were seen being handcuffed and put into MHP and Helena Police Department squad cars. Others who were detained were put into a transport van.
At the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center, people waited in the jail’s lobby to get word on the charges those detained would face, when they might be booked, if they would need to post bond, and when they might be released.
Izzy Milch, the advocacy manager for Forward Montana, said the group of protesters and advocacy groups had already secured any bail money those detained might need, as well as funding for legal representation.
“It took like five minutes, Milch said.
They said the group had only planned a rally and had not planned what transpired in the House chambers. But they said everyone who did go from the rally into the House gallery wanted to speak up when Zephyr could not.
“We were there to support Zooey and use our voice,” said Chloe Runs Behind, an organizer with Forward Montana.
MHP Sgt. Jay Nelson said the sheriff’s office would likely be issuing a statement on behalf of the law enforcement organizations involved at the Capitol.
A message left with the sheriff’s office was not immediately returned, nor had the office issued a statement as of 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Kim, a policy associate with the ACLU of Montana told the Daily Montanan the dozens of people who protested outside and inside the Capitol Monday felt represented by Zephyr in several ways and wanted to be at the Capitol to stand up for their progressive beliefs they say she exemplifies.
“If what the Republicans are doing was able to pass, and they’re continuing to be able to silence Zooey, and nobody were to speak up, that would be a really dangerous precedent for politics in this state – and simply one as a young person who dreams of having a life here that I wasn’t willing to accept,” Kim said. “For me to put my body on the line in the smallest sense, and knowing that I have a community of advocates and community in Missoula that was ready to catch me, made it an easy decision.”
As of 7:30 p.m., Zephyr and those who gathered at the jail were still waiting in the lobby for the people detained to be released.
The Daily Montanan’s Keila Szpaller contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Rep. Casey Knudson’s vote.
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Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, stood at her seat in the Montana House Chamber with her microphone in the air, while the other representatives evacuated the floor as shouts of “Let her speak!” echoed from protesters in the House gallery above.
Protesters threw gloves covered in fake blood on the House floor Monday as police with batons and helmets made arrests and cleared the House Gallery and dissenters continued to shout.
Zephyr, the first transgender woman elected to the Montana state house, had punched in to speak, and Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, stood up, along with fellow Democrats, to say Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, had not recognized Zephyr.
Emotion was high on the sidelines as Democrats held back tears in solidarity with Zephyr. Law enforcement arrested at least seven protestors in all, including some who were detained in the gallery during the demonstration.
Monday was the third time Zephyr had requested to speak and not been recognized on the House floor— after not being recognized last week in an event that drew national news.
During the debate last week on Senate Bill 99, a bill to ban gender affirming care for minors, Zephyr said Republicans would have “blood on their hands” if they voted for it, in reference to the high youth suicide rate associated with cutting off access to gender affirming care.
The gloves hitting the House floor were meant to be symbolic of Zephyr’s comments.
In defending his decision to not call on her, Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, argued last week her statement that those who supported the bill should be “ashamed” of themselves was out of line. He has refused to recognize her on the floor since.
In response, her constituents and other supporters mounted their own calls for Regier to remove the muzzle from Zephyr.
Before the floor session, Shawn Reagor of the Montana Human Rights Network estimated more than 400 people rallied in front of the capitol building calling for Zephyr to be recognized on the floor Montana Highway Patrol officers estimated anywhere from 200 to 300.
Two banners that spanned the width of the Capitol steps said “Democracy Dies Here” in red letters. Signs in the crowd read “Trans Lives matter more than republican feelings” and “Equal Rights for All Montanans.”
“They picked me in this moment because I said a thing that got through their shield for a second,” Zephyr said before the crowd. “Those in power aren’t content with just passing those hateful, harmful bills. What they’re demanding is silence and we will not be complicit in our eradication.”
Rep. SJ Howell, D-Missoula, said they would not be the “barometer of the trans community” with people comparing them and Zephyr.
“Thank God Zooey and I aren’t exactly the same,” Howell said. “I will not be the ‘good’ trans person.”
Speakers also included Izzy Milch with Forward Montana and Gwen Nicholson, who announced their campaign for Missoula City Council at the rally.
After the rally, many people who attended the demonstration sat in the House gallery, which seats 189 and was mostly full.
Before legislators started hearing bills, Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings, called for consideration of amendments to a bill to ban drag in public venues in Montana to be moved to the end of a long session, and a majority of the legislators voted yes.
That move nor the Speaker asking participants in the gallery to refrain from cheering and booing didn’t stop the uproar that ensued when Zephyr was again not recognized.
During debate, Zephyr requested to speak on Senate Bill 518, a bill sponsored by Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, that mainly concerns parental rights.
The bill includes language that requires parent permission for a student to be called by pronouns that don’t align with their sex and also says someone would be able to disregard pronouns that don’t align with the child’s sex.
Rep. SJ Howell, D-Missoula, said during debate that “this issue of pronouns has a lot of different people feeling a lot of different ways.”
“I understand pronouns are not for the faint of heart,” Howell said. “I also think this is something for families to deal with.”
The speaker would not recognize Zephyr, however. The House took a vote to back his decision, and Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta and Rep. Gregory Frazer, R-Deer Lodge, joined Democrats in voting against the ruling of the chair.
One person in the gallery yelled “bulls–t,” and others started chanting.
Rep. Melissa Romano, D-Helena, said she felt a lot of empathy for her seatmate, Zephyr, as she stood resolute.
Montana House Sergeant of Arms Bradley Murfitt at one point approached Zephyr. He later said he was asking her to calm her people down.
After police forced protesters out of the gallery, Zephyr left the House chamber and followed them into the halls of the Capitol.
“I love you!” shouted activist Paul Kim to Zephyr as he was being arrested. “You’re the best thing to ever happen to this state!”
Kim explained the reason Zephyr’s voice is important while he was waiting to be taken to jail.
“In this country you don’t get many rights but one of the things you do get is an elected representative, and 11,000 Montanans are waiting for Zooey Zephyr to speak for them, to represent the interest of trans people in the state who belong in the state as well,” Kim said. “It’s not just … the old white men who run the show over here. It’s every single person. Montana is big enough for all of us, and I think it has space for all of us.”
Zephyr, who had gone voluntarily to the county jail where her supporters had been taken, thanked her community in a statement Monday.
“When my constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being disabled, they courageously came forward to defend their democratic right to be heard- and some were arrested in the process,” Zephyr said. “I stood by them in solidarity and will continue to do so.”
Abbott similarly said the House saw Montanans show up and engage in the democratic process, with some getting arrested.
“To me, it’s an incredible statement in support of the trans, nonbinary, and two-spirit community–and against the Republican agenda that would strip our neighbors of their basic rights, dignity, and humanity,” Abbott said in a statement.
But Republican House leadership characterized the protest as a “riot by far-left agitators” in a statement, saying dissenters “endangered legislators and staff.”
“Their actions did not represent Montana values. We want to thank our law enforcement for maintaining order and protecting the safety of everyone at the Capitol,” a joint statement from Regier and Majority Leader Vinton.. “House Leadership will still stand firm in our commitment to decorum, safety, and order. We will uphold the people’s will that sent 68 Republicans to Helena.”
Earlier in the day, Montana Federation of Public Employees President Amanda Curtis delivered a petition asking House Speaker Regier to allow Zephyr to speak.
MFPE counted more than 3,200 signers, and supporters walked to unroll the paper with signatures down the hall and around the corner until it unfurled all the way.
“We, the undersigned citizens of Montana, request that you allow all democratically elected representatives to speak on the House floor,” said the petition, which Curtis read. “By refusing to recognize Rep. Zooey Zephyr, you are silencing the voices of over 10,000 Montanans.
“In our democracy, elected leaders must be able to represent their constituents.”
The petition was titled “Speaker Regier: Don’t Silence 10,000 Montanans.” Curtis handed the document to the House sergeant of arms after the reading and unfurling.
“Montanans expect, and respect, dissent and debate from our elected leaders,” the MFPE petition said. “We ask that you honor Montana’s democracy and let Rep. Zephyr do her job for her constituents.”
Manzella said following the floor session she had not yet seen the debate on her bill in the House, but had heard protesters. After legislators returned to the floor they voted 60-39 to pass her bill on second reading, an outcome Manzella said she was pleased with.
The gallery had cleared at that point.
The Senate Amendments to House Bill 359 from Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, that “gut” the original bill that banned drag performances on public property was discussed with little fanfare after protesters had left. Vinton had moved discussion of the bill to the end of the agenda at the top of the floor session.
Following the floor session, the Montana Freedom Caucus put out a statement saying they condemned the actions of “the violent protestors in the capitol building today” and called for “immediate disciplinary action” against Zephyr.
“The actions of a small minority of people disrupted the business of all Montanans and continues to show why we must enforce the rules of decorum when engaged in public debate,” the statement read. “Representative Zephyr encouraged these actions by standing in the middle of the floor encouraging an insurrection after all members were told to move to the sides and clear the House gallery to remain in a safe location.”
House Leadership has not said if they intend to discipline Zephyr.
Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, said following the floor that he didn’t expect for them to do more than deny recognition.
“I can’t really think of what the extra consequence would be if there was one,” Hopkins said.
Keila Szpaller of the Daily Montanan contributed to this report.