On Monday, August 26, the State-Tribal Relations Committee (STRC) held its first meeting of the interim.
During the 2001 legislative session, the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 10, which established the STRC. SB 10 outlined the STRC’s responsibilities as:
- Acting as a liaison with tribal governments;
- Encouraging state-tribal and local government-tribal cooperation;
- Conducting interim studies as assigned; and
- Reporting its activities, findings, recommendations, and any proposed legislation to the Legislature.
At its meeting, the STRC covered administrative matters, adopted its rules for the interim, received updates on legislation and court rulings, elected its chair and vice-chair, and discussed and adopted its work plan for the interim. The STRC voted for Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, to serve as chair and for Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, to serve as vice-chair. According to the STRC’s website, the committee’s work plan outlines how it will carry out its statutory duties and assigned study. It also identifies the topics which the committee, as well as the tribal governments which the committee visits this interim, have prioritized for discussion.
At this time, the STRC plans to study four issues. They are:
- Barriers to voting by American Indians in Montana. Passed during the 2019 legislative session, HJ 10 requests the State-Tribal Relations Committee to study barriers to voting for American Indians in Montana. HJ 10 calls for the study to examine existing deadlines and procedures for Montana elections, including requirements for physical addresses and identification, and any obstacles to those requirements on reservations in Montana; analyze options for addressing any barriers, while ensuring election security; review mail ballot requirements and options, and the impact of those requirements on reservations; and consider any other matters relating to voting by American Indians that the committee deems appropriate.
- Maintenance of highways within reservation boundaries. During the 2019 legislative session, Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy sponsored HB 426, which would have required certain public agencies responsible for roads or highways wholly or partially within a reservation to enter into or attempt to enter into an agreement regarding snow removal and other winter maintenance with the tribal government located on the reservation. It also would have allowed tribal governments to receive funds for highway maintenance. The House Transportation Committee, however, tabled the bill.
- Options to break the cycle of youth who run away from home. Leading up to the 2019 legislative session, the 2017-2018 STRC requested SJ 2 be introduced as legislation. It would have requested an interim study of options to break the cycle of youth who run away from home. The bill called for the study to include reasons related to mental health and to discuss the services or interventions, including wrap-around and community-based programs, that could help break that cycle. Although the bill failed, the STRC has decided to move forward with the study anyways.
- CPS communication issues regarding ICWA cases. This study was not prompted by legislation. It came at the request of Rep. Rae Peppers. While the STRC did not discuss the full scope of the study, the STRC plans to look into ways to improve communication between tribes and CPS when it comes to ICWA cases.
- The STRC also set aside research capacity for issues as they arise.
The STRC added the following meeting agenda items for the interim. At this time, the STRC does not plan to study these topics; however, the committee members expressed a desire to learn more about them.
- Treaty issues and obligations (broadly) and the types of tribal land in Montana;
- Opioid prescription rates and access to supportive housing;
- Peer support services (updates on SB 30 implementation); and
- Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) – specifically, which tribes have done this?, what are the benefits? what are the steps?, etc. UCC are laws established to regulate sales of personal property and other business transactions. They are intended to make it easier for businesses in different states to do business with each other.
MBPC will continue to track STRC activity during the interim.