Indigenous Justice and the 2021 Legislative Session

The 67th Montana Legislative session proved challenging for Montana’s Indian Country, with some wins with Missing Indigenous persons legislation, and losses on voting rights, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous Peoples Day. 

Montana Women Vote worked on ten bills that addressed issues identified by the State-Tribal Relations Committee as important, we supported eight and opposed two.

 

Missing & Murdered Indigenous People:

Three passed and one (HB 36) was tabled.

  • HB 35, sponsored by Rep. Stewart-Peregoy (Passed and signed into law)  –  Establish a Missing Persons Review Commission, passed almost unanimously. This bill is designed to establish a missing Indigenous persons review commission as part of the Department of Justice that will examine trends and patterns, educate the public, and recommend policies and practices to encourage jurisdictional coordination.
  • HB 98, sponsored by Rep. Stewart-Peregoy (Passed and signed into law)  –  Extending the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and the Looping in Native Communities program, extended the termination of the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and the grant program that it administers, clarified information that the task force must report, provided an appropriation ($50,000 over the next two years) and amended language in three sections.
  • SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Small (Passed and signed into law)  –  Extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, a partner bill with HB 98. This act has extended the termination of the MIPTF, requiring the task force to work toward identifying causes contributing to Missing and Murdered Indigenous persons, amending language in two sections, and pushing the termination date to June 30, 2023.
  • HB 36, sponsored by Rep. Stewart-Peregoy (Tabled)  –   Missing persons response team grant program, would have established a grant program to fund training for communities searching for missing Indigenous people. When an Indigenous person goes missing in Montana, the family and community are the ones who search for the individual and continue to search for years after. They are untrained, and as seen in the death of Selena Not Afraid, this lack of training may result in missed evidence and bodies. This bill appeared to be making its way to law, passing through the House and second reading in the Senate, however, it was tabled after being re-referred to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.

 

Native American Voting Rights:

  • HB 613, sponsored by Rep. Stewart-Peregoy (Tabled)  –  The Native American Voting Rights Act, was aimed at addressing current voter suppression on seven of Montana’s Reservations. The bill as originally drafted would have required at least two satellite or alternative election offices to be selected by each federally recognized Indian tribe, required precinct polling place notices to include locations on Indian Reservations, and would authorize the use of nontraditional addresses as an elector’s residential address (as many reservations have PO. Boxes and no residential addresses). HB 613 was gutted, removing all important language, the bill subsequently died in a floor vote.

 

Native Youth:

  •  SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Gross (Tabled)  –  Allow minors to consent to no-cost emergency shelter and related services, was aimed at minors who are unsafe at home and need a place to go without a legal guardian present. It was one bill that made it through transmittal that was aimed at addressing “runaway youth”. This bill was tabled in the House Human Services committee.

 

Indigenous Peoples Day

  • SB 94, sponsored by Sen. Webber (Tabled)  –  Indigenous Peoples’ Day, would have changed Montana’s recognized holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Despite an overwhelming amount of public support, it was tabled in committee.
  • SB 146, sponsored by Sen. Morigeau (Tabled)  –  Indigenous Peoples’ Day: introduced as a duplicate bill to increase the likelihood of one IPD bill passing out of committee, also aimed at changing Montana’s recognized holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This bill was also tabled in committee.

 

Taxing on Reservations:

Attacks on tribal sovereignty came in many forms, the two bills we tracked that were aimed directly at dismantling tribal sovereignty were carried by Senator Greg Hertz (R) of Lake County.

  • SB 138, sponsored by Sen. Hertz (Tabled)  –  Repeal temporary tribal property tax exemption, was aimed at repealing the temporary exemption from property taxes during the federal trust application period for property owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe. Many tribal governments spoke at the hearing, stating that the law would be infringing on tribal sovereignty, and was not something the state has the ability to legislate.
  • SB 214, sponsored by Sen. Hertz (Passed and transmitted to Governor)  –  Revise laws related to temporary tribal property tax exemption, was created after SB 138 died. This act revises the temporary tax exemption for tribal property, requiring the Department of Revenue to notify the county in which the property is located of the exemption application and approval of the exemption, and providing for the recapture of taxes if the trust application is denied or not approved within 5 years. This bill passed despite overwhelming opposition.

 

To see the voting record of legislators on these bills, please see our Indigenous Justice Scorecard. SB 94, SB 138, and SB 146 are not on the scorecard as they never made it to the floor.