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Public Law 280, aquatic invasive species among the topics at legislative session

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 Local legislators convened in Helena on Monday, Jan. 2, for the biennial session, with proposed bills dealing with Public Law 280, aquatic invasive species and permanently moored vessels.

State Rep. Greg Hertz, R–Polson, plans to submit a bill requesting the state reimburse counties impacted by Public Law 280.

The law, an agreement between the federal, state and tribal authorities, resulted in Lake, Sanders and Missoula counties prosecuting felony cases for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes since the 1960s. Lake County commissioners and other officials have been talking about withdrawing from the law, especially since CSKT and Energy Keepers took over the former Kerr Dam in 2015 and the Montana Department of Revenue has declined to send the tribes a property tax bill for the dam.

Hertz’s bill, which didn’t have an official number as of last week, would mainly affect Lake County, he said. He’s unsure of its prospects, however.

“It’s a very difficult year,” he said. “Revenues are down.”

If his bill isn’t passed and signed into law by the governor, Hertz said the only other option is to withdraw from the agreement, which doesn’t have an explicit escape clause.

All three entities – federal, state and tribal – would have to agree to terminate the agreement, he said.

Hertz is continuing to work on a “dog breeder bill” that would require anyone who sells more than 30 cats or dogs a year to register with the state. Such a registration would require a nominal fee and an annual inspection by a veterinarian. The registrations would be overseen by the state Board of Veterinarians, he said.

State Rep. Mark Noland, R–Bigfork, whose district includes Woods Bay and Swan Lake, has three potential bills in the works dealing with Flathead Lake.

One bill would provide a dedicated funding source for preventing and dealing with aquatic invasive species such as mussels. Such a bill, if passed, would mean legislators wouldn’t have to keep looking for funding every two years, he said.

Noland sponsored a bill that set up a trust fund for dealing with AIS two years ago, but there isn’t any funding in it, he said.

He also has a bill in the works that would revise regulations for dealing with AIS, but said the details need to be hashed out. A bill that he sponsored two years ago resulted in more check stations and longer hours for them, he said.

A bill that would regulate moored vessels in various bodies of water is also on Noland’s agenda. Since no state agency is currently tasked with regulating boats that are permanently moored, Noland wants to give some authority to either the Department of Natural Resources, Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the Department of Environmental Quality. Noland wants at least one state agency to be able to talk to owners of such vessels, he said.

State Rep. George Kipp, D–Heart Butte, whose district includes much of the east side of U.S. 93 along with the Salmon Prairie area, is proposing a bill to prohibit the sale or trade of cultural patrimony and sacred objects. Kipp could not be reached for comment.


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