Bills on MICWA, law enforcement in Lake County and Indian Education for All on Gianforte’s desk

A bill providing grant funds for volunteer training for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women searches was signed by Gianforte

By: - May 10, 2023 4:11 pm

The Montana State Capitol in Helena on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Photo by Mike Clark for the Daily Montanan)

The legislature passed a number of bills related to tribes in Montana that still await Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signature.

These included a bill establishing reporting requirements for Indian Education for All funds, a bill placing the Indian Child Welfare Act in state code and a bill reimbursing Lake County for federal criminal jurisdiction on the Flathead Reservation.

A bill giving grant funds to volunteer training for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women search-and-rescue cases was signed by the governor in April.

Indian Education for All

A bill awaiting the governor’s signature from Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D- Box Elder, would put in place reporting requirements for schools that accept state funds to teach Indian Education for All, $3.5 million a year, and make the curriculum required, rather than encouraged, in the state of Montana.

The bill was amended in the Senate to change the language from “requiring” Indian education for all, back to “encouraging.” However, the original “requirement” language was amended back in conference committee. Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula, explained in committee that she amended it in the Senate in order to ensure it survived. The amendment to reverse the language change passed unanimously. The bill passed on third reading in the House and Senate and was sent to Gianforte’s desk.

Montana Indian Child Welfare Act

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court case that challenges aspects of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, bill sponsor Windy Boy introduced legislation to incorporate what is seen as the “gold standard” of child protective services into state statute.

The bill was amended in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety committee, where Sen. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, had his own ICWA proposal known as “ICWA for All,” which would apply concepts of ICWA to all child welfare cases. Lenz’s bill is still awaiting Gianforte’s signature.

Other aspects of Windy Boy’s amendment, including a qualified expert witness for ICWA cases and the striking of the clause that would have voided the act if the Supreme Court found ICWA to be invalid in its entirety, both stayed. House Bill 317 has yet to be signed by Gianforte.

As far as what bill Gianforte will sign, Kaitlin Price, a spokesperson for Gianforte’s office said last week the bills had not yet made it to his desk.

“When they do, the governor will carefully consider them,” Price said.

Reimbursing Lake County for PL-280 expenses

The bill sends a total of $5 million in general fund dollars to Lake County for reimbursement for taking on the cost of law enforcement for federal crimes on the Flathead Reservation. The history of the Public Law 280 agreement with the state goes back to the 1960s, when the state took over criminal jurisdiction for the Flathead Reservation and Lake County argues they’ve been burdened with the cost of upholding the agreement since – and said the strain of doing so is impacting local finances.

House Bill 479, sponsored by Rep. Joe Read, R-Ronan, the last PL 280 bill left standing at the end of the session out of three, was amended in the Senate by Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, to require Lake County Commissioners rescind a resolution they made prior to the legislative session that said the county would withdraw from PL-280 if legislators didn’t appropriate funds to the county for fulfilling the law.

Hertz said that would leave the state having to create a state criminal jurisdiction from scratch, which he said in committee could cost $100 million. The amendment, which was concurred in by the House, would also create a PL-280 task force with various stakeholders including the governor’s office, Lake County Commissioners and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The bill has yet to be signed by Gianforte.

Grant funds for community training for MMIW search and rescue

The bill provides $61,000 in grant funding for training volunteers to help coordinate as part of a missing persons response team. The team would be trained to conduct searches while also protecting a scene for law enforcement to investigate.

During a hearing on HB 18, bill sponsor Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, explained the teams would be multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional and may include other community entities and volunteers. An amendment was added in the Senate that the volunteer teams also coordinate with county sheriffs, which Running Wolf endorsed. The bill was signed into law by by Gianforte on April 19, according to the legislature’s website.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.