The Montana Legislature's State-Tribal Relations Committee is honing its research on four studies as it prepares to visit two tribal nations in May and consider potential legislative proposals for next session.

Here's the latest on each of the STRC's study areas after its March 5-6 meeting in Helena:

Barriers to American Indian voting in Montana

The committee learned about the use of plus codes (short hand versions of longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates) at the Navajo Nation in Utah and Arizona to precisely register voters who don't have a physical address as well as provide emergency services and utility hookups. The STRC asked for more information about how the Secretary of State might incorporate plus codes into Montana's voter registration database.

Improving communication between the state and tribes in child abuse and neglect cases

Two Yellowstone County District Court judges are piloting a project to reduce how long a parent accused of child abuse or neglect waits for a court hearing from 20 days to 3 to 5 days. The pilot began February 1. After talking with the judges, the STRC asked for an update in August to determine whether the statutory timeline could be shortened for everyone. The committee also wants to learn about how county attorneys select federally-required 'qualified expert witnesses' (QEW) to testify in certain cases involving Indian children.

Maintenance of highways within reservation boundaries

The STRC received an overview of federal funding for and state, county, and local maintenance of roads within reservation boundaries. The committee also heard about safety concerns on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and disputes over how county fuel tax money might be distributed to tribes for maintenance. The STRC asked for more information about both at upcoming meetings.

Runaway youth: why they run multiple times

Great Falls educator Jordann Lankford told the STRC that, in her experience, kids who runaway multiple times are running from something at home. They want to feel better, but don't know how other than to escape and feel better at that moment. However, she says, the ability to predict consequences is one of the last things to develop and so youth return home when they run out of resources. At Lankford's urging and that of OPI's State Coordinator for Homeless Education, the STRC will look at legislative options to allow runaway youth to stay at homeless shelters without parental consent and to allow them to graduate without meeting a school district's additional credit requirements if they meet the state's credit requirement.

In other business, the STRC received updates on implementation of missing persons-related legislation and sent a letter to Attorney General Tim Fox asking that if a phone application is developed to send "push notifications" when American Indians are reported missing that the application send notifications about anyone reported missing.

The committee also received updates on Indian gaming compact discussions, promoting tourism in Indian Country, the development of an American Indian health strategic plan, scheduling of sweats at the prison in Shelby, adding tribal entities to the Secretary of State lien filing system, and the 2020 Census.

For more information on the committee’s activities and upcoming meetings, visit the committee’s website or contact Hope Stockwell, committee staff.

Committee Website:
Committee Staff: or 406-444-9280

The Legislative News.