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State lawmakers pass on special session on immigration

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | June 11, 2024 12:00 AM

A request to hold a special session of the Montana Legislature to address immigration failed to garner enough support from state lawmakers, according to the Secretary of State’s office.  

In a May 7 letter, led by Kalispell Republican and House Speaker Matt Regier, a group of legislators asked Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen to poll their colleagues’ interest in reconvening the Montana Legislature for a special session that would have begun June 24.  

Only 59 legislators replied affirmatively to the proposal by the June 7 deadline. For the session to occur, a majority of legislators — greater than or equal to 76 — needed to approve the request, according to Montana code.

“I’m disappointed for sure,” Regier said on Monday. “There is an obvious need for Montana to act, with the Biden administration failing to protect our state.”

The original request came days after an immigrant family allegedly arrived in Kalispell. U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., used the family’s presence in the Flathead Valley to blast the Biden administration’s immigration policies with other Republican lawmakers up for election in November, including Gov. Greg Gianforte and Tim Sheehy, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, quickly following suit.

Though Zinke provided detailed information about the family, their immigration status and the circumstances of their arrival in May, including accusing a local nonprofit of aiding in their journey, his office later acknowledged they were unable to provide any evidence for the allegations.

Regier said the family’s arrival and the ensuing brouhaha played a minor role in the effort to organize a special session.

“The news of this family was just one more stick on a really large pile already. Illegal immigration has been going on for years ... I don't really have any comment on the specifics of one group that came, this is a problem that is going on for a while,” Regier told the Daily Inter Lake.

Ahead of the vote, Regier had indicated that lawmakers were drafting a bill modeled after legislation in Texas and Iowa. Texas’ Senate Bill 4, which is mired in litigation, lets local law enforcement arrest and deport people in the state illegally. The Biden administration opposes the law, arguing that immigration policy and enforcement rests with the federal government.

Despite requests for a special session failing, Regier said there were plans to bring the bill to the floor come the 2025 Legislative session.

“The bill has been drafted … the road is paved, we just need to drive down it,” Regier said. 

The requested session would have addressed the fact that “individuals ignoring immigration laws of our nation have created a crisis at the southern border” and that the crisis itself “has been proliferated by now relocating illegal aliens to Montana,” according to the letter.   

“If we do not take swift action, we could see an increasing magnitude of illegal activity in Montana, specifically at our state’s northern border,” the letter reads.  

The lawmakers’ letter also called for stronger regulations for nonprofits, organizations, individuals and businesses regarding immigrants in the country illegally. And it requested legislators revisit the distribution of marijuana tax revenue.

In the Flathead Valley, Republican State Reps. Neil Durham, Terry Falk, Steve Gunderson, Bob Kennan, Braxton Mitchell, Amy Regier, Matt Regier and Tanner Smith voted in support of the session. Reps. Courtenay Sprunger and Tony Brockman, both Republicans, did not submit a response, and Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, voted against the initiative.  

In the Senate, Republican Sens. John Fuller, Carl Glimm, Greg Hertz, Mark Noland and Keith Regier voted in support.  Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, did not respond.

Two other requests for a special session, one aimed at requiring judicial candidates to adopt party affiliations and the other focused on requiring voters to present additional proof of identity at the polls, also failed.   

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.