House rejects Senate amendments to MICWA, Indian Education for All
The Montana State Capitol on March 21, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)
The House voted to reject Senate amendments that weakened two bills sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, R- Box Elder, on the floor on Friday.
The first bill aims to put the language from the Indian Child Welfare Act into Montana code, but the Senate amendment added a sunset date of two years.
The second bill aimed to strengthen requirements for Indian Education for All, but the amendment changed bill language from “requiring” lessons to “encouraging.”
Windy Boy requested amendments from the Senate for both bills to be rejected.
“I think that just kind of waters it down and deletes the whole intent of the original bill,” Windy Boy said of the Indian Education for All amendments on the floor.
A conference committee was assigned for each bill so representatives from each chamber can meet and hash out differences they have on the bill language and reach a settlement.
HB317Senate amendments to House Bill 317, known as “MICWA” or the Montana Indian Child Welfare Act, were discussed on the floor first.
Windy Boy said he had reservations about some of the stricken language in MICWA, including language around protecting the best interest of Indian children.
The U.S. Supreme Court has Haaland v. Brackeen under its consideration and could decide the fate of the federal ICWA, which has been described by proponents as the “gold standard” for child custody proceedings and practices.
Amendments also included one from Sen. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, that would place a sunset on the bill after two years, in part due to the uncertainty surrounding the federal court’s upcoming decision.
The House voted 69-31 to not include the Senate amendments.
The Senate had a heated debate over MICWA last week, with Sen. Daniel Emrich, R-Great Falls, asking Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, who carried the bill in the Senate and is a member of the American Indian Caucus, if the word “Indian” was struck from the bill if he would support it. Small responded that he would, as the Senate passed a bill unanimously that essentially did just that.
Lenz has a bill moving through the legislature, Senate Bill 328, also known as “ICWA for All” that applies concepts of ICWA for all children in the state. It recently was concurred by the House and will advance to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk.
Proponents for MICWA, including the ACLU of Montana, say that both bills can and should co-exist.
HB338House Bill 338, Windy Boy’s Indian Education for All bill, was also discussed. It aimed to tighten up language in existing statute to require, instead of encourage, all students receive instruction in American Indian studies. The Senate amendment would have changed it back.
HB338 would also require detailed reports and accounting about how the funds, about $3.5 million, are being used and what programs are being implemented, or risk losing the funding.
Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, spoke in favor of Windy Boy’s motion to reject the Senate amendments.
“To the extent that we have a constitutional obligation, and we are funding this, [Indian Education for All] should be mandatory,” Bedey said.
The House voted 75-25 to reject the Senate amendments to HB 338.
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