Montana Public Radio

The Session Week 5: Tribal Land Property Taxes, Partisan Committees, Child Welfare

Feb 1, 2021

As of midday Jan. 29, 490 bills have been introduced, and there’s one bill on Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk. This week, we’re watching bills to make tribes pay more property taxes; make interim committees partisan; and expedite court hearings for child protective cases.

Senate Bill 138, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz, a Republican from Polson, would repeal a temporary exemption for tribes on property taxes when they apply for federal trust designation on land that they buy: Land that once was in the tribes’ ownership established through treaties with the U.S. government and that was later sold to non-Native Americans.

Hertz says county commissioners in Lake County have been pushing to recoup more revenue from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in property taxes and this bill would help accomplish that.

Jordan Thompson, an attorney with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, says the U.S. government broke promises when it opened up the reservation to sell lands that had been promised to the tribes. Thompson says the tribes should continue to receive the property tax exemption as they try to buy those lands back.

SB 138 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Taxation committee.

Senate Bill 122 would change membership of legislative interim committees to include three members of the majority party and one of the minority party, instead of two from each party. Sponsor and Kalispell Republican Sen. Keith Regier said the bill is intended to better reflect the makeup of the Legislature, which is currently weighed heavily toward the GOP.

“When we get to Sine Die, democracy ends and we go to 50-50. The bill is to change that so the will of the people is reflected in the interim as well as during the session,” he said.

This would be an important change because interim committees develop bills to be considered during the next session, and those bills often find a lot of support in the Legislature. Interim committees also conduct studies to inform potential legislation.

SB 122 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in the Senate Legislative Administration committee.

House Bill 90 is sponsored by Dennis Lenz, a Republican from Billings. It’s about what happens after a child is removed from their home by child protective services. Right now, the soonest that a kid and their family will get to appear in court is 20 days after the removal of the child from their home. A lot of people involved with this system say that is too long and this bill would require a show-cause hearing within five business days of a kid being taken out of the home. But county attorneys and judges say the bill as written does not sufficiently address the legal infrastructure that needs to be in place to expedite these cases.

We also shout out the Montana Capitol Tracker launched last week by Montana Free Press. The tracker is a digital guide that compiles bill statuses, lawmaker statistics and voting data to help Montanans make sense of how their representatives in Helena make state law.