Montana legislature becomes first to approve full statewide TikTok ban, heads to Gianforte’s desk

The state House approved a statewide ban on social media app TikTok last week, making Montana the first state in the nation to have a complete ban on the social media platform. The ban, if signed into law, will not go into effect until January 2024. 

The bill passed with a 54-43 vote, and it bars “the operation of TikTok by the company or users” in Montana, and would make it illegal for companies like Apple and Google to allow users to download the app on app stores. 

The state will fine any “entity” that allows users to download or access the app $10,000 per day, according to the bill. That fine does not apply to TikTok users, law enforcement, “national security interests,” security research or “essential government uses” permitted by the governor.

The bill cites concerns that the app’s Chinese-owned parent company, ByteDance, is sharing user’s data with the Chinese government without their permission. Gov. Greg Gianforte shared similar reasoning when he banned TikTok on state-owned devices and networks last year. He instructed the Montana University System to block the app on campus networks in January.

“We will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement.

No states have ever fully banned an app from use, and the bill text does not lay out details on how Montana is going to enforce the ban. People could likely still access the app through Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, that would list the location of their device as outside of the state.

Missoula approves $130,000 for Mobile Support Team

The city council approved a contract so its mental health response unit can add $130,000 from the county to its budget in 2024.

Assistant Missoula fire chief Brad Davis said the new funding for the Mobile Support Team will allow the team to hire a full time administrative assistant, cover rental costs for the team’s office space and provide gas vouchers and basic needs to the people it serves.

The program launched in 2020 to respond to emergency calls that involve mental health problems and behavioral health crises. The city hopes to decrease the number of arrests and emergency room visits.

Advocates for the team said the unit saved Missoula taxpayers about $250,000 in the 10 months after its launch, fielding 537 calls.

Clark Fork named fifth most endangered river in America in 2023

The American Rivers organization named the Clark Fork River as the fifth most endangered river in the country, citing industrial pollution from the defunct Smurfit-Stone pulp mill.

The pulp mill, which operated for 53 years, has waste dumps downstream from Missoula and leaks toxic chemicals into groundwater connected to the river. The mill has been closed for 13 years, but fish in the area are considered too toxic for people to consume.

“Missoula, downstream communities, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes deserve clean water and edible fish,” said Lisa Ronald, the western Montana associate conservation director with American Rivers. “Cleaning up Smurfit-Stone is not just the right thing to do, it’s a smart economic decision since cleanup now is less expensive than cleanup after a disaster.” 

Waste from the mill was either dumped directly into the Clark Fork, put temporarily into riverside settling ponds or buried in unlined ponds and landfills. The waste settling ponds are only separated from the river by a gravel berm that hasn’t been maintained since 2010. That means spring runoff and flooding erodes the berm each year, and a large flood could send those pollutants into the river.

American Rivers is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to order the companies in charge of the mill’s production, WestRock and International Paper, to clean up the surrounding waste dump areas. The Clark Fork ranked behind the Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Ohio, Pearl and Snake Rivers on the American Rivers’ list.

Legislature passes bill removing abortion from Montana constitution’s right to privacy 

A bill that would exclude the right to abortion from the state constitution’s right to privacy section passed both chambers and is ready to be signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Senate Bill 154, sponsored by Republican Sen. Keith Regier from Kalispell, passed 67-33 in the House on Thursday. All Democrats and one Republican voted against it. 

The bill’s text contradicts the 1999 Armstrong v. Montana state Supreme Court case, which ruled a statute preventing pre-viability abortions unconstitutionally infringes on the right to individual privacy. 

Planned Parenthood of Montana sued the state on April 10 to block House Bill 721, which would ban all dilation and evacuation abortion procedures, the most common practice when medication abortions are no longer effective. 

The same day the suit was filed, Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that the block was premature, but the lawsuit was not dismissed and Planned Parenthood can request the block again if the bill passes.