The Law and Justice Interim Committee (LJIC) met on June 28 to elect officers and plan its interim work. Members elected Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) as presiding officer and Rep. Jimmy Patelis (R-Billings) as vice presiding officer.
The committee heard updates from two of the several agencies that it monitors between sessions: the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Corrections (DOC).
First, Liz Bangerter from the DOJ discussed several bills adopted in the 2017 session that stood out for the agency, including Senate Bill No. 366. SB 366 requires DOJ to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards that comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005 upon request of a qualified applicant. Ms. Bangerter highlighted a problem with the timing of implementation funds that is proving challenging in implementing the bill’s provisions. The committee asked to receive updates on REAL ID at future meetings.
Eric Sell from the DOJ then explained the Attorney General’s current initiative to understand and address a substance abuse crisis facing the state. Mr. Sell discussed the study process and current activities, including the department’s hope to have recommendations for the 2019 Legislature.
Next, Adrianne Cotton from DOC reviewed recent changes at the department and the effects of the recent criminal justice legislation enacted during the 2017 session. One change was at the top of the department. The governor appointed Reginald Michael as director to replace the previous director, Mike Batista, who had retired before the session.
Ms. Cotton also spoke about the numerous structural changes and ongoing projects required for the DOC to respond to the Commission on Sentencing’s legislative package that was approved in the 2017 session.
The LJIC members discussed and informally indicated their initial priorities for interim studies and agency monitoring activities. At the LJIC’s fall meeting, the members will revisit the draft work plan and the study plans to make any further changes and to adopt them for the interim.
For the committee’s study of meth use and opioid abuse, which was requested in House Joint Resolution No. 6, the LJIC chose to monitor the AID Montana Initiative coordinated by the Attorney General’s Office. The members will receive updates from committee and AGO staff on the progress of the initiative and reserved time to listen to panel discussions during future meetings after initial work on the initiative is performed.
Senate Joint Resolution No. 25 is the LJIC’s second study. It requests that the committee examine the extent of the use of solitary confinement in Montana. The LJIC will dedicate committee and staff time to examine most, if not all, of the study topics listed in the resolution, including receiving reports on various topics, listening to stakeholders and the public, drafting legislation as needed, and producing a final report of the committee’s work during the study.
As part of its routine agency oversight duties, the LJIC asked to receive notices of proposed rules before hearings or final decisions so they could choose to have input at an earlier stage of the rulemaking process. They also requested a presentation from the Board of Pardons and Parole on its required review of administrative rules that were adopted prior to the effective date of Senate Bill No. 64, which revised the structure and decisionmaking processes of the parole board.
The next meeting of the committee is on September 21 in Room 102 of the State Capitol in Helena. For more information about the meetings or the committee, visit the committee’s website or contact the committee’s staff.