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Montana House Votes to Approve Bill Turning Off Resources to NSA by Razor-Thin Margin

HELENA Mont. (Feb 25, 2015) – The Montana House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would take on NSA spying by denying material support and resources to federal agencies engaged in warrantless surveillance. The vote was 51-49.

Montana Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-45) introcuded HB443, a bill that would not only support efforts to turn off NSA’s water in Utah, but would have practical effects on federal surveillance programs if passed.

“People talk about hackers and cybersecurity, but the biggest threat we face today is the NSA,” said Zolnikov.

The bill now moves to a third reading and final vote in the coming days. Final approval will move the bill to the state Senate.

If passed into law, the bill would ban the state from providing “material support or resources” to federal agencies engaged in mass surveillance of electronic data or metadata. The bill declares, “A government entity may not assist, participate in, or provide material support or resources to enable or facilitate the collection or use by a federal agency of a person’s electronic data or metadata without that person’s informed consent, without a search warrant based on probable cause that particularly describes the person, place, or thing to be searched or seized, or without acting in accordance with a judicially recognized exception to the warrant requirement.”

Passage on second reading in the full House was by a razor-thin margin, and the strongest opposition was due to a misunderstanding of the bill itself.

Opponents, such as Rep. Jenny Eck (D-Helena) claimed that passage of the bill would block the Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) from investigating child pornographers, something that a considerable number of “Nay” votes appeared to believe. “If this bill passes,” said Eck, “This would stop [the Montana DOJ’s] ability to stop child sex trafficking and child pornography.”

But, as Rep. Jeff Essman (R-Billings) pointed out, the bill would do no such thing because those investigations are covered by “judicially-recognized exceptions to the warrant requirements” as cited in the bill text. “This bill would not interfere,” said Essman.

Rep. Nick Schwaderer (R-Missoula Mineral) called such claims fear-mongering. “9-11, Columbine… every time we introduce a bill to protect liberties, they come out and oppose it.”

“We still have a tough battle ahead of us, but this is a big victory,” OffNow executive director Mike Maharrey said. “A full legislative body stepping up to deny state resources and support to federal spying sets a precedent other states can follow. Similar bills are being considered in 12 other states. I’m sure those folks are watching Montana. Now that she’s made the first move, it should give other legislatures a push to move forward as well.”

In passing HB443, the Montana House became the second full legislative body in the country to approve a bill banning resources to the NSA. Last year, the California Senate passed a similar legislation 29-1, but the Assembly gutted the bill, and removed those provisions on resources before sending it on to the governor’s desk. Sources indicate lobbying efforts by the California Sheriffs Association in opposition to the bill was ultimately responsible for its changes.

HB443 will be scheduled for a third and final reading in the House within the next two days. Having passed a second reading, final passage later this week is uncertain, but possible with grassroots support. The bill would then move over to the Senate for further consideration.

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