- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Abortion, the death penalty, guns and the very essence of personhood. Some of the legislative session’s most contentious bills seemed doomed from the start, some killed with a stroke of the governor’s veto pen while others perished by legislative action or inaction.

While more than 250 bills are still on their way to the governor’s desk, more than 550 died in committee or on the floors of the House and Senate. As of Friday, the governor had issued 13 outright vetoes.

Many of the session’s most hotly debated bills focused on hot-button issues that exposed the cultural divide between social conservatives and Democrats. There were also measures focused on Shariah law, charter schools and transgender rights.

Over the four-month session, conservative lawmakers introduced three major anti-abortion bills.

A proposed constitutional amendment didn’t mention the word abortion, but its sponsor’s intent was clear: Accord constitutional rights to unborn children by having voters declare that life begins at the moment of conception. The measure would have circumvented the governor’s desk, but it could not muster the two-thirds majority required to bring the referendum to voters.

Two others have made it to the desk of Gov. Steve Bullock and may be dead on arrival because he supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion. One bill would ban nearly all late-term abortions by requiring doctors to deliver viable fetuses. Another proposal would have outlawed abortions on so-called pain-capable fetuses.

The House Judiciary Committee killed a proposal that would have asked voters to settle the question about who can use gender-specific restrooms and locker rooms in public schools, universities and other government buildings. The measure drew support from social conservatives espousing traditional family roles and values. It was opposed by civil rights group and those concerned that such a law could repel potential business.

The House Judiciary Committee also kept a proposal to abolish the death penalty from advancing, even though the bill’s lead sponsor was a fellow Republican. It would have replaced the ultimate punishment with life imprisonment.

Charter schools seemed to get traction this session, but they became embroiled in the contentious debate over an infrastructure bonding bill. When the bonding bill died, so did any chance this session of a charter school system.

While a bill seeking to ban foreign laws from being used in Montana courts did not specifically target Shariah law, supporters spoke out about the religious doctrine that is used in parts of the Islamic world. Montana was one of the 13 states considering legislation seeking to prevent the use of foreign law in state courts. The governor vetoed the bill, saying that signing the law could have been misconstrued as endorsing anti-Muslim sentiments.

Legislators introduced several gun-related bills, including one that would have allowed qualified school employees to carry concealed weapons on campuses. Another sought to give lawmakers authority to carry concealed firearms in the Capitol and other government property, but the governor may be wary about signing such a bill into law.

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