Along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill to increase the number of places where people can carry firearms in Montana.
The committee put one amendment on the bill to include secure areas of law enforcement facilities as a place concealed guns are not allowed, which came at the request of the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office and the bill sponsor, Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet.
House Bill 102 cleared the committee on a 7-4 vote, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats in opposition. The amendment passed on the same margin.
If passed, the legislation would stop the state Board of Regents, which oversees the higher education campuses in Montana, from blocking the carrying of firearms on those campuses. It also greatly expands where people may conceal-carry guns without a permit and allows permitted-carry in additional places such as bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
The committee failed to pass other amendments proposed for the bill, some of which would have made more substantial changes.
Committee members were confused at points about the process of voting on the amendments, as the committee attempted to at times segregate parts of larger amendments.
One proposal that failed to pass would have let judges decide about allowing firearms in their courtrooms and other locations within the building. Another failed change would have allowed for control over firearms at some events on campuses that have controlled access and active security, like sporting events.
After the vote to move the bill to the full Senate, Sen. Diane Sands, a Democrat from Missoula, questioned why the bill didn't have a note attached estimating its fiscal impact to the state. Sands said the legislation would have a cost to the state's university system.
The bill next heads to the full Senate. The House will also have to concur on changes made in the Senate.
Berglee's legislation is similar to a bill he had vetoed in 2019 by the former Democratic governor. The state has its first Republican governor in 16 years, and many GOP lawmakers are hoping for different outcomes from past vetoes this session.