New year brings new laws enacted by Montana voters

Citizenship proof will be required for state services

HELENA – New laws going into place with the new year will require Montanans seeking state services to prove they are U.S. citizens, and require minors under 16 to receive parental permission for an abortion.

The laws were enacted last month by voters and are by far the most significant of a handful of legislation that will be taking effect.

Nearly 80 percent of voters approved a measure that requires every person who seeks any state service to prove that they are a U.S. citizen or in the country legally. Supporters argue it will prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining services and prevent them from taking jobs at a time of high unemployment.

Opponents argue there is no proof there is an immigration problem in Montana at all, and point out every citizen will now have to deal with additional “bureaucratic meddling” to do anything from getting a business license to applying for college programs.

Both measures were among those placed directly onto the ballot by the Republican-led 2011 Legislature, a move made to potentially avoid the veto pen of Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The citizenship requirement, however, is already subject to a legal challenge. Critics say the new law unconstitutionally imposes on the right to privacy of Montanans, and that its implementation faces constitutional due process issues.

The state is rushing to implement the citizenship requirement, although many questions remain on exactly how it will be done. The Schweitzer administration has reminded agencies of the requirement, but the details in some cases have not been put in place.

The initiative says that every individual seeking a state service – such as applying for any state licenses, state employment, unemployment or disability benefits, or aid for university students – must provide evidence of U.S. citizenship or lawful residence.

Critics said the measure will burden Montanans with another layer of bureaucracy that will delay applications for licenses. Montanans who don’t have a birth certificate or passport could face even longer delays.

“I think it is going to be a burden,” said Kim Abbott with the Montana Human Rights Network. “The question is, how easy are you going to make it on Montanans so they can, without extra barriers, get the services they need?”

Helena District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock has set a hearing in February to look at the constitutional challenge to the initiative.

So far, there are no legal challenges to the new law dealing with parental notification of teen abortions.

Supporters argue parents should be involved in such an important decision. A doctor who provides an abortion without proper notification could receive a six-month prison sentence and a $500 fine under the new law.

Opponents unsuccessfully argued that the government should not play a role in such decisions, and argue in some cases parental notification isn’t appropriate – such as in cases where a girl comes from an abusive home. More than two-thirds of voters endorsed it.

Planned Parenthood of Montana said it is waiting to see details on implementation, particularly the way courts deal with a provision that lets teens from abusive homes bypass notification with court approval.

Planned Parenthood’s Lindsay Love said the initiative throws a big hurdle up for a relatively small number of teens. She said the group’s records show that 92 percent of teens came into the clinic with a parent. Last year, there were only 10 teens who didn’t have a parent with them, Love said.

“Laws like this only make it that much harder for teens that need help and can’t tell their parents to get that help that they need,” she said.

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