Tuesday Feb. 22 for Community News Service

Rep.  Pat Noonan was sure he had an idea everyone could buy. Who could oppose stiffer penalties for thugs who assault pregnant women?

But everything changed when Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee added the words “or her unborn child.”

With that amendment, the Butte Democrat found himself on the House floor today awkwardly defending a bill that he almost wished had died.

“You can’t assault an unborn child without assaulting the pregnant woman,” Noonan said. “I went from no opponents to half the people are opponents simply because of adding this in.”

Noonan suggested an amendment on the House floor to undo the committee’s amendment.

“There’s so many bills related to this issue that we divide over,” Rep. Frankie Wilmer, D-Bozeman said. “This was one bill that had everyone on board before this amendment. Can we please show the Montana people that we can agree?”

The move to restore the bill’s original form failed 39-59.

Despite his frustration at a non-partisan safety bill becoming divisive, Noonan said pregnant women need this bill and he will ask the Senate to remove the phrase during its discussion of the measure next week.

Rep. Keith Regier, R- Kalispell, defended the committee’s decision to amend the bill.

“It did have a lot of support in its original form,” Regier admitted. “When I looked at it, I realized the only thing that makes a woman pregnant is an unborn child.”

Representatives Kathleen Williams, D-Bozeman, and Walter McNutt, R-Sidney, noted it is the first time in their memory that a bill’s title has been amended. Typically, a bill’s title is never changed and summarizes a proposal so that it prevents against amendments to the text that changes the bill’s intent.

“You can vote on the bill however you like but, boy, things have changed and I’m not so sure they’re for the good,” McNutt said about the precedent set by the amendment.

Regier supported it again.

“The original bill was not changed in anyway,” Regier said.

HB 457 passed second reading 86-14 and will face a final House vote Wednesday before being passed to the Senate for consideration.

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