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.

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