An Explainer of Income and Wealth in the Time of COVID-19

During the pandemic, there have been many news headlines about the widening wealth gap in the United States. While true, wealth and income gaps existed long before COVID-19, particularly along lines of race. That is no accident. Rather, these gaps are the product of our country’s ongoing history of racist, biased, and discriminatory policies and practices against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). The pandemic has simultaneously made us acutely aware of that fact while also exacerbating the problem.

For starters, let’s distinguish wealth from income and income from wealth. The two terms are commonly used interchangeably but have different meanings. Income is what we get from our employer, our business, rents on properties, and so on. Say, for example, you work at a grocery store that pays you for your work. That is income. On the other hand, wealth represents savings, so it is accumulated over time, and tends to be higher than income. Wealth includes money in the bank, property and land owned, jewelry and art, and the like.

Both wealth and income are essential to long-term financial security. Without income, it is hard to meet basic everyday needs, such as groceries, diapers, school supplies, and clothes. In other words, income helps measure day-to-day economic resources. Wealth gives people a cushion if they lose their job or fall on hard times and allows for big investments in things that can grow wealth, such as higher education and property. Wealth can also generate income through accrued interest on bank deposits and dividends on stocks, for example.

It is possible to have wealth and little or no income. Take owning a home and living on a modest pension as one example. As a different example, take a billionaire, like Jeff Bezos. According to a July 2021 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as of 2020, Bezos received an annual salary of $81,840, a modest income for the world’s richest person. Bezos also has wealth in the form of Amazon stock, which grew by more than $100 billion between 2010 and 2018. So, while Bezos has a relatively low income (for the world’s richest person), he has tremendous wealth.

The pandemic is deepening wealth inequality. According to reporting from August 23, 2021, in the first 17 months of the pandemic, billionaires in the United States saw their wealth increase by $1.8 trillion, an amount roughly 144 times the size of Montana’s $12.5 billion 2023 biennial budget. That has happened as the economic downturn of the pandemic has hit ordinary people. Of those billionaires, Elon Musk alone saw his wealth grow by $150 billion, and Jeff Bezos watched his wealth increase by $75 billion. It is not just the wealth of individual billionaires that is increasing, but so is the number of billionaires (from 614 to 708). For perspective, if those 708 billionaires were to sit in the University of Montana’s football stadium (capacity of 25,217), the stadium would be about 97 percent empty. We are talking about a very privileged few here. As a reminder, wealth can generate income, so even if wealthy people (millionaires and billionaires) have relatively little income, they still have resources to finance lavish lifestyles.

This concentration of wealth largely benefits white people. According to an April 2021 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the wealthiest 10 percent of white U.S. households hold nearly two-thirds of the country’s wealth. According to September 2020 research of pre-COVID wealth from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the average white family had eight times the wealth of the average Black family and five times the wealth of the average Hispanic family before the pandemic. These numbers represent more than a point in time – they represent the historical injustices perpetrated by racist, biased, and discriminatory policies and practices against BIPOC people. Wealth, or a lack thereof, can persist across generations. The accumulation of wealth represents access to homeownership opportunities, the passing down of resources from generation to generation, the ability to save, and a tax code that favors wealth over income, among other things. Remember, wealth can generate income, which also means that it can deepen income inequality.

White people have been more insulated from the financial impacts of COVID. Americans with higher incomes, who are more likely to be white because of ongoing historical racist policies and practices, have had more flexibility to work from home, protecting them from the virus and the economic downturn. In fact, households with annual incomes of $200,000 or more were nearly six times as likely as households with annual incomes of less than $25,000 to have switched to telework in 2020.

BIPOC people are overrepresented in jobs the pandemic hit the hardest. A July 2021 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute shows that while the overall unemployment rate fell, white people fare better. As of the analysis, Hispanic workers were still nearly 70 percent more likely than white workers to face unemployment, and Black workers were twice as likely as white workers to face unemployment.

Wealth inequality helped white people who lost job-related income. For example, according to a July 2021 report from the Center for American Progress, nearly 46 percent of white households that saw job-related income loss used savings to cover expenses, compared to roughly 31 percent of Black households. This means that when households needed to rely on savings, fewer Black families could do so, despite the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black people.

While undeniably linked, income and wealth are distinct. Our country’s ongoing history of racist, biased, and discriminatory policies and practices deny BIPOC people equitable access to either, creating an uneven recovery from the pandemic. Lawmakers in Congress and the Montana Legislature can do something about this. Some solutions include providing financial support for BIPOC entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, investing in early child care and education, providing financial support for higher education, and strengthening taxation of wealth and high incomes to sustain transformative investments in BIPOC communities.

Senate Bill 214 Has Deep Roots in Settler Colonialism

After tabling it on April 1, House Tax voted on April 9 to pass Senate Bill (SB) 214 out of committee. Now, it will move to the House floor for the full House of Representatives to consider. Like SB 138, its predecessor, SB 214 has deep roots in anti-indigenous policy. Opponents to this bill have made that clear. At the bill’s March 24 hearing, 20 opponents, including tribal leaders, testified in opposition, while just two proponents spoke in favor of the bill. Lawmakers should keep this in mind when casting their vote.

SB 214 relies on policy from 1887, when Congress passed the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, with the ultimate purpose of dissolving tribal governments and reservations and assimilating American Indians into non-Indian society. This forced allotment of reservations opened tribal land to property taxation and made SB 214 possible today.

What Is Senate Bill 214?

SB 214 would change an existing five-year tribal property tax exemption for fee-to-trust transfers that the 2011 Legislature created with bipartisan support when it passed SB 412. The proposed changes under SB 214 would allow counties to recapture taxes on exempt property if either the five-year period expires (meaning the process with the federal government takes longer than five years) or if the federal government denies the fee-to-trust transfer.

In February, Senate Tax tabled SB 138, which would have outright repealed the temporary exemption. In 2019, the Legislature opposed two similar bills: House Bill (HB) 401 and HB 733. Lawmakers’ first decision to table SB 214 was the right one.

How Is Senate Bill 214 Connected to Allotment?

SB 214 is possible because of allotment. When Congress began the allotment and assimilation era in 1887, it divided communally held reservation lands into individual parcels without tribal consent, allocated parcels to tribal citizens and households, and sold “surplus” parcels to non-Indian settlers, most often without compensating tribal nations. In total, the U.S. government took more than 90 million acres (roughly the size of present-day Montana) from tribal nations.

Now, reservation lands are a patchwork pattern of ownership and land status types, with land generally falling into one of two status types: trust or fee. Trust land is held in trust by the federal government and includes land collectively owned by a tribal nation and allotments to tribal citizens. Trust land is exempt from property taxes. Fee land, on the other hand,is generally private property and can be owned by American Indians and non-Indians. Because of the forced allotment of reservation lands, state and local taxing jurisdictions may assess property taxes on tribally owned fee land.

As intended, allotment had devastating consequences for tribal communities. In 1934, Congress ended the allotment era when it passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Under the IRA, tribal nations and the federal government can return fee land to trust status. However, the process can be lengthy and costly to tribal nations. To facilitate those transfers and to recognize that one government did not want to tax another while the wheels of the federal government turn slowly, the 2011 Legislature passed SB 412.

By attempting to change this exemption, SB 214 ultimately would punish tribal nations for the federal government moving too slowly. Because proposed changes would allow counties to collect back taxes, SB 214 could also incentivize counties to delay fee-to-trust transfers by challenging those applications.

A Better Path Forward

Rather than impose property taxes on tribally owned reservation land, the Legislature should dismantle the legacy of allotment by expanding the tribal property tax exemption. This would be consistent with the treatment of other government-owned property in Montana, where property that is owned by federal, state, and local governments is tax-exempt. SB 214 targets land owned by tribal governments, disregarding and dishonoring the government-to-government relationship and political status of tribal nations as sovereign.

Expanding the exemption would also be consistent with the approach that other states take. Oregon, for example, exempts tribal lands from property taxes when a fee-to-trust application is pending. There are no time constraints. Idaho exempts tribally owned reservation land altogether, in an effort to treat all government properties the same, whether federal, state, county, or tribal.

What Is Next?

Although it was recognized as bad policy long ago, tribal nations continue to feel the impacts of allotment today. MBPC opposes SB 214 and will continue to track its progress.

In the meantime, tell your Representative to oppose this bill by sending them a message at https://leg.mt.gov/web-messaging/ or by calling 406-444-4800.

For a deeper dive into the land status of Indian Country, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Land Status of Indian Country.

House Bill 621 Would Bring Recreational Cannabis Tax Revenue to Indian Country

In November 2020, Montanans voted to pass I-190 to legalize possession and use of recreational cannabis and to establish a 20 percent tax on recreational cannabis sales. MBPC has chosen to use the race-neutral, scientific term “cannabis,” except when referencing state accounts.

What Is House Bill 621?

On Wednesday, March 24, House Tax is scheduled to hear House Bill (HB) 621. HB 621 would distribute 8.4 percent of recreational cannabis tax revenue to a newly created state-tribal marijuana revenue-sharing account for the Department of Revenue to provide tribal governments with grants for:

  • ensuring that cannabis is controlled based on state law;
  • addressing substance use;
  • fire and police protection;
  • emergency-related or disaster-related expenses; and
  • health services.

HB 621 would be a significant revenue boost for tribal governments. The fiscal note estimates that HB 621 would deposit roughly $382,000 into the account beginning in 2022, with that amount increasing annually to as much as $3.3 million in 2025. For comparison, the Department of Revenue’s latest biennial report notes that the 2020 tribal allocation was nearly $3.6 million for the cigarette tax.

Tribal Governments Need Revenue

Like all governments, tribal governments need revenue to fund programs and services on which Montanans rely. The power to generate revenue through taxation is inherent to tribal sovereignty. Yet, over time, state and local governments have hamstrung the ability of tribal governments to raise needed revenue by challenging tribal governments’ once-exclusive taxation authority. This means that tribal governments must provide many of the same services as other governments without the usual tax revenue on which those governments rely.

Tax revenue is an insignificant revenue source for tribal governments. While taxes represent the largest revenue source for the state and local governments in Montana, the largest source of tribal revenue comes from federal funding, most of which stems from the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribal nations. However, the federal government chronically fails to uphold this legally binding obligation. The Indian Health Service budget, for example, meets just more than half of American Indian health-care needs.

By competing with tribal nations for tax revenue, state and local governments worsen fiscal problems for tribal nations, extract wealth from tribal communities, and deny tribal governments the ability to adequately invest in their communities. (For more on taxation in Indian Country, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Taxation Authority in Indian Country.)

House Bill 621 Would Help Pave a Path to Economic Recovery in Indian Country

HB 621 provides legislators with one tool to provide tribal nations with the fiscal relief they are overdue. The coronavirus pandemic has shone a brighter spotlight on deeply rooted inequities in Montana. Years of underinvestment, plus the outlined challenges to the ability of tribal governments to generate tax revenue, have resulted in outsized consequences of the pandemic for tribal communities. Recreational cannabis sales are estimated to bring millions of dollars of tax revenue into the state, meaning there is enough to share. The Legislature should vote yes on HB 621 to make this smart investment that helps pave the way to economic resilience and opportunity in Indian Country.

To make your voice heard through remote testimony, register through this link by noon on Tuesday, March 23.

Transmittal Update: State-Tribal Legislation

The Montana Legislature has reached transmittal, or the point in the legislative session at which general policy bills must move from one chamber to the other. That means that if a general policy bill started in the House, the Legislature must refer it to the Senate (and vice versa). If the Legislature fails to do so, that bill dies. This deadline does not apply to bills that appropriate money or deal with revenue.

This blog provides an update on some of the state-tribal bills that the Legislature has considered so far, not just those bills that are impacted by the transmittal deadline. The following bills are not a comprehensive run-through of all bills relevant to Indian Country.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP)

House Bill (HB) 35 would establish a missing persons review commission, which would review closed missing persons cases. The commission would 1) examine patterns and trends of MMIP cases, 2) educate stakeholders about MMIP and investigation and prevention strategies, and 3) make recommendations to curb MMIP rates. For the biennium, HB 35 would appropriate $85,000 from the general fund to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to operate the commission.

HB 36 would establish a grant program to help fund training opportunities for community-based missing persons response teams. For the biennium, HB 36 would transfer $61,000 from the general fund to the missing persons response team training grant account for the DOJ to administer.

The 2019 Legislature created the missing indigenous persons task force and the Looping in Native Communities (LINC) network grant program when it passed Senate Bill (SB) 312. The LINC grant program supports efforts of tribal nations to identify, report, and find missing indigenous persons. The task force administers the grant program. HB 98 would extend the termination dates of both the task force and the grant program from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2023. HB 98 would also require the task force to identify causes of and make recommendations to reduce MMIP cases. The bill would also require the task force to produce a written report of its findings and recommendations. HB 98 would transfer $50,000 from the general fund to the LINC special revenue account for the biennium for the task force to provide matching grants to tribal agencies to implement LINC.

Senate Judiciary is scheduled to hear all three bills on March 10. MBPC supports all three bills.

Property Taxes

In 2011, the Legislature passed SB 412 to create a five-year tribal property tax exemption that tribal nations apply to fee land with a pending trust application. (For more on what this means, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Land Status of Indian Country.) SB 138 would have repealed this exemption. As MBPC wrote about in early February, SB 138 has deep roots in settler colonialism. This bill is possible because of the forced allotment of reservations, which the federal government used in its efforts to dissolve tribal governments and reservations and assimilate American Indians into non-Indian society. One legacy of this policy is that it allows for state and local taxing jurisdictions to assess property taxes on tribally owned fee land. Senate Tax tabled SB 138 in committee.

SB 214 would revise the previously mentioned tribal property tax exemption to allow for counties to recapture “lost” tax revenue, should either the federal government deny a tribal nation’s fee-to-trust application or should the application remain pending after the five-year exemption expires. Senate Tax passed the bill on a 7-4 vote.

HB 526 would allow counties to challenge property tax exemptions that the Department of Revenue provides. The bill passed 3rd reading in the House on March 2 on a 66-33 vote. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

MBPC opposes these bills.

Again, this blog does not capture the full breadth of bills that impact Indian Country. There are bills related to language preservation, voting rights, cannabis revenue, and more. MBPC will continue to track legislation and provide updates.

Senate Bill 138 Has Deep Roots in Settler Colonialism

On this day (February 8) in 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, with the ultimate purpose of dissolving tribal governments and reservations and assimilating American Indians into non-Indian society. Last week, Senate Tax heard Senate Bill (SB) 138, a bill with deep roots in this settler-colonial policy.

What Is Senate Bill 138?

SB 138 would repeal the five-year tribal property tax exemption for fee-to-trust transfers that the 2011 Legislature created with SB 412. The 2019 Legislature voted down two bills related to SB 138: House Bill (HB) 401 and HB 733.

How Senate Bill 138 Is Connected to Allotment?

SB 138 is possible because of allotment. When Congress began the allotment and assimilation era in 1887, it divided communally held reservation lands into individual parcels without tribal consent, allocated parcels to tribal citizens and households, and sold “surplus” parcels to non-Indian settlers, most often without compensating tribal nations. In total, the U.S. government took more than 90 million acres (roughly the size of present-day Montana) from tribal nations.

Now, reservation lands are a patchwork pattern of ownership and land status types, with land generally falling into one of two status types: trust or fee. This has tax implications. Trust land is held in trust by the federal government and includes land collectively owned by a tribal nation and allotments to tribal citizens. Trust land is exempt from property taxes. Fee land is generally private property and can be owned by American Indians and non-Indians. Because of the forced allotment of reservation lands, state and local taxing jurisdictions may assess property taxes on tribally owned fee land.

As intended, allotment had devastating consequences for tribal communities. In 1934, Congress ended the allotment era when it passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Under the IRA, tribal nations and the federal government can return fee land to trust status. The process can be lengthy and costly to tribal nations. To facilitate those transfers and to recognize that one government did not want to tax another while the wheels of the federal government turn slowly, the 2011 Montana Legislature passed SB 412.

By attempting to repeal this exemption, SB 138 ultimately places a greater burden on tribal nations seeking to reclaim land stolen under allotment.

A Better Path Forward

Rather than impose property taxes on tribally owned reservation land, the Legislature should work to dismantle the legacy of allotment by expanding the tribal property tax exemption. This would be consistent with the treatment of other government-owned property in Montana, where property that is owned by federal, state, and local governments is tax-exempt. SB 138 targets land owned by tribal governments, disregarding and dishonoring the government-to-government relationship and political status of tribal nations as sovereign.

Expanding the exemption would also be consistent with the approach that other states take. Oregon, for example, exempts tribal lands from property taxes when a fee-to-trust application is pending. There are time constraints. Idaho exempts tribally owned reservation land altogether, in an effort to treat all government properties the same, whether federal, state, county, or tribal.

What Is Next?

Although it was recognized as bad policy long ago, tribal nations continue to feel the impacts of allotment today. MBPC opposes SB 138 and will continue to track its progress. If the 2019 legislative session is any indication for what to expect, LC0726 could come next. This bill would allow counties to recapture property taxes should the federal government deny a trust application or should the five-year exemption expire. MBPC would also oppose this bill.

For a deeper dive into the land status of Indian Country, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Land Status of Indian Country.

Update: Tribal Sovereignty During COVID-19

Our previous blog, Tribal Sovereignty During COVID-19, covered the actions tribal nations have taken in reservations across Montana to protect public health and prevent the spread of COVID-19. While Montana has moved closer to reopening, tribal nations have continued to prioritize public health through measures that include extended stay-at-home orders and travel checkpoints.

Tribal nations are now faced with an increase of coronavirus cases on their reservations because surrounding areas and travelers have not adhered to the same measures. This pandemic has made evident how necessary respecting tribal sovereignty is to American Indian health and public health.

As we wrote in our previous blog, tribal nations are more susceptible to the pandemic for many intersecting reasons. In addition to structural barriers to health care, settler-colonialism’s attempt to erase indigenous food systems, economies, and lands negatively impacted the health of American Indians. These disparities are direct results of historic and ongoing policies pursued by the federal government, states, and settlers.

In Montana, American Indians make up just 6.7 percent of the population but 15 percent of the total number of coronavirus cases. The past month has been especially hard on tribal communities who have seen a rise in the amount of COVID-19 cases impacting tribal citizens, including many elders. Elder tribal citizens are an especially vulnerable group, and tribal nations have taken measures to safeguard them. Elders hold important roles within tribal nations, communities, and families. Not only are elders beloved, they pass on irreplaceable indigenous knowledge and languages to future generations.

Over the past three weeks on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, the tribal nation lost 24 citizens due to the coronavirus, and many were tribal elders. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe has taken steps to flatten the curve on the reservation. The tribal nation has implemented a reservation-wide curfew and stay-at-home order that it recently extended until total active COVID-19 cases remain at or below 50 for 30 consecutive days. According to the Northern Cheyenne Board of Health, there were 657 cumulative positive tests as of October 2.

In addition, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe has been distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), food, hygiene products, and more to its citizens. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe also has an elderly assistance program in place that provides services such as grocery and pharmacy pick-up.

The Crow Tribe of Indians reported 899 cumulative positive tests and 24 deaths on the reservation by October 2. The Crow Tribe of Indians is continuing to encourage travelers to stay off of the reservation. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized the efforts of the Crow’s Incident Command Center and its efficacy.

The Blackfeet Nation closed all tribal programs and departments from October 4-25, with the exception of emergency and essential services, to assist in curbing the rising number of COVID-19 cases on the reservation. The Blackfeet Nation also distributes goods and PPE to its citizens. According to Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command, there were 325 active cases of COVID-19 on the Blackfeet Reservation as of October 6.

Although the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, providing $8 billion to tribal nations to buffer the economic impact of the coronavirus, there is still more need. Some tribal nations have used this funding to purchase PPE and testing kits and have funded other tribal government response efforts.

Many tribal nations have also decided to give stimulus relief checks to their tribal citizens to offset some of the financial hardships of the pandemic. Most are often less than a thousand dollars per person depending on the tribal nation. However, these assistance programs are not recurring, and the funds are limited. Although these funds may provide some temporary relief to tribal citizens, this does not change structural inequities like access to health care.

Respecting tribal sovereignty throughout this pandemic and beyond is integral to the health of tribal citizens. This could be the fulfillment of treaty obligations to fully fund IHS, deferring to tribal taxation authority, and adhering to tribal nations’ travel restrictions. Everyone has a role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those most susceptible to it.

2020 State-Tribal Symposium Wrap Up

Thank you to all those who attended our 2020 State-Tribal Policy Symposium: Advancing Investments in Indian Country.

This year’s symposium had attendees from each tribal nation in Montana and more from across the country. We had tribal leaders, lawyers, students, community members, American Indian business owners, state legislators, and more.

This was our first time doing this event virtually and we learned so much. We appreciate everyone who attended – whether on zoom or by watching our Facebook live. We want to thank everyone who filled out an evaluation which will help inform our work moving forward.

You can find our most updated version of the State Budget Handbook for Indian Country online. This handbook mirrors the agenda we walked through at the Symposium. However, it is a useful tool even if you were not able to attend. We also hope you’ll check out all of our State-Tribal work here.

For those who weren’t able to make it, or for those of you who want to watch again, you can find recordings of each session at the following links:

Session 1 – The State Budget and Indian Country

Session 2 – Legislative Session 101 – Crash Course

Session 3 – Panel: Elevating American Indian Voices at the Capitol: Current Investments and Future Opportunities

Session 4 – Testimony, Advocacy, and Community Engagement

Session 5 – Keynote, Tara Houska

Again, thank you for your support for this year’s State-Tribal Policy Symposium.

To stay on top of MBPC’s State-Tribal work, follow @MontanaBudget on Facebook and Twitter.

10 Days Left to Register for the State-Tribal Symposium

Register today for MBPC’s 2020 State-Tribal Symposium: Advancing Investments in Indian Country.

There are only 100 spots per session. If you register now you will receive materials for the symposium, be able to join the presenters for a Q&A, and receive recordings of each session. If you are unable to join, the symposium will also be available on MBPC’s Facebook live and recordings will be posted to our website.

This free symposium provides tribal leaders and advocates with information on how the state budget process works and how people can get involved to secure important investments in Indian Country. Over the past few legislative sessions, the state has invested state funds into programs like indigenous language preservation, tribal colleges, Indian Country Economic Development, suicide prevention, and Medicaid expansion.

Hear from experts on some of the state-funded programs that impact Indian Country. Get the details on what they are, why they are important, and where they stand going into the legislative session. Get an overview of how a bill becomes law, how to track legislative activity online, and learn how to get involved in the process. Review examples of legislative wins and learn how they apply to future opportunities.

Who should attend: state and tribal elected officials, program directors, tribal-led advocacy groups, community organizers, educators and tribal college students, and others from Indian Country who are interested in learning more about becoming active in the state budget and legislative process.

Updates from the August 24 State-Tribal Relations Committee Meeting

On August 24, the State-Tribal Relations Committee (STRC) met virtually for the last time of this interim to discuss a variety of topics.

As a reminder, the 2001 Montana Legislature established the STRC as a permanent interim committee. However, various versions of the committee have existed since the 1970s. Today, the STRC functions to:

  1. Act as a liaison with tribal governments,
  2. Encourage state-tribal and local government-tribal cooperation,
  3. Conduct interim studies, and
  4. Report its activities, findings, recommendations, and any proposed legislation.

The following summarizes some of the STRC’s legislative proposals for the 2021 session. The full agenda is broader and includes links to draft legislation.

Improving Communication Between the State and Tribal Nations in Child Neglect Cases

In August 2019, the STRC discussed how communication issues between the Child and Family Services Division of the Department of Public Health and Human Services and tribal nations contribute to the disproportionate placement of American Indian children into the foster care system.

Over the course of the interim, the STRC has studied solutions to keep families together. One solution gets families before a judge as quickly as possible after child removal. In February 2020, Yellowstone County Judges Jessica Fehr and Ashley Harada began a pilot project to shorten the timeframe between removal of a child from a home and the parents’ initial hearing in court. Currently, statute requires a hearing within 20 days of removal. In this pilot project, the judges are aiming to have all initial hearings within 2-5 calendar days.

For the 2021 legislative session, the STRC is moving forward with a bill that would require a hearing within five business days. For more on the STRC’s interim activity on this topic, see this draft report.

Runaway Youth

For the 2019 legislative session, the STRC requested Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJ 2), an interim study bill of options to break the cycle of youth who run away from home. Although the Legislature failed to pass the bill, the STRC chose to learn more about the issue this interim.

STRC decided to move forward with three legislative proposals for the 2021 session. The proposals would allow youth who run away to stay at homeless shelters without parental consent and allow them to graduate without meeting a school district’s individual credit requirement, should the youth meet the credit requirement established by the Montana Board of Public Education. For more on the STRC’s interim activity on this topic, see this draft report.

Statutory Changes in Light of Little Shell Federal Recognition

In December 2019, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians gained federal recognition. To honor the tribal nation’s status, the STRC is proposing legislation that would revise existing Montana law to reflect Little Shell’s federal recognition.

Missing Persons

The STRC began studying the high rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in Montana in 2017 and proposed a number of bills that the 2019 Legislature passed. This interim, the STRC continued to study the issue and is proposing four bills for the upcoming session. One bill would establish a missing persons review commission, which would 1) examine the trends and patterns of missing indigenous persons in Montana, 2) provide education about missing indigenous persons and strategies for investigation and prevention, and 3) recommend policies and practices that may encourage jurisdictional collaboration and coordination. Another bill would establish a grant program that would help fund training opportunities for community-based missing persons response teams. The third bill would extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, although the bill would not fund the task force. The final bill would extend and fund the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and the Looping in Native Communities grant program.

For more on this issue and related legislation, see the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force report.

What Is Next?

MBPC will continue to track STRC activity and its proposed legislation through the 2021 session.

Registration for 2020 State-Tribal Symposium: Advancing Investments in Indian Country

MBPC is excited to announce that registration is now open for the 2020 State-Tribal Symposium: Advancing Investments in Indian Country.

This free symposium provides tribal leaders and advocates with information on how the state budget process works and how people can get involved to secure important investments in Indian Country. Register today.

Over the past few legislative sessions, the state has invested state funds into programs like indigenous language preservation, tribal colleges, Indian Country Economic Development, suicide prevention, and Medicaid expansion. Hear from experts on some of the state-funded programs that impact Indian Country. Get the details on what they are, why they’re important, and where they stand going into the legislative session. Get an overview of how a bill becomes law, how to track legislative activity online, and learn how to get involved in the process. Review examples of legislative wins and learn how they apply to future opportunities.

Who should attend: state and tribal elected officials, program directors, tribal-led advocacy groups, community organizers, educators and tribal college students, and others from Indian Country who are interested in learning more about becoming active in the state budget and legislative process.

Monday, September 14, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
The State Budget and Indian Country
Tuesday, September 15, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Legislative Session 101 – Crash Course
Wednesday, September 16, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panel: Elevating American Indian Voices at the Capitol: Current Investments and Future Opportunities
Thursday, September 17, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Testimony, Advocacy, and Community Engagement
Friday, September 18, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Keynote, Tara Houska