By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – In response to a recent movement to boycott, divest and place sanctions, or BDS, on trades with Israel, Montana lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit companies that are involved in the movement from doing business in the state.
House Bill 501 would require the Board of Investments to receive certification that companies are not involved in boycotts of Israel before doing business.
Mona Jamison, lobbyist for several organizations, supported the bill and testified on her own behalf during the hearing Tuesday.
“Because to stand by and do nothing is to sanction what is going on,” Jamison said.
David Ewer, executive director of Montana’s Board of Investments, opposed the bill and read the role of the board during his testimony.
“It doesn’t say with passion. No, just the opposite, it’s supposed to be dispassionate – it’s supposed to be objective,” Ewer said.
Ewer also added that it would be hard to single out these companies, but it can be done.
SK Rossi, American Civil Liberties Union of Montana lobbyist, also opposed the bill. She said if the bill were to go into law, it would violate the First Amendment rights of companies in the state.
“It worries me to think that we’re going to start asking folks who want to interact with our state government what political beliefs they hold, and targeting them for those beliefs,” Rossi said.
Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, is the sponsor of the bill. He disagreed with the argument that the bill violates any First Amendment rights.
“But what we’re doing here is making a policy statement, that as the state of Montana – fine, you want to boycott the nation of Israel? That’s fine, you can do that. We choose as a matter of policy in the state of Montana is not going to do business with you,” Knudsen said.
Webb Brown, Montana Chamber of Commerce lobbyist, supported the bill and said the state eventually plans on developing a trade mission in Israel.
“Rather than a punitive measure with the boycotts, we’d would rather there be a promotional measure to increase the cooperation, and increase the opportunities that we see in Israel as well,” Brown said.
This was the House State Administration’s Committee first hearing on the bill.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.