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Bill to fund PL280 passes House

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HELENA — House Bill 479, sponsored by Ronan representative Joe Read, is on its way to the State Senate after passing a House vote on April 3. 

HB479 proposes that the State of Montana appropriate $2.5 million to the Department of Justice each year, beginning July 1, to reimburse Lake County for law enforcement activities on the Flathead Indian Reservation per Public Law 280.  

PL280 is an agreement with the State of Montana passed in 1964 to conduct law enforcement and provide other services on the Flathead Reservation. According to the agreement stated in the bill, unless the CSKT or Lake County withdraws consent to enforcement of PL280, the state shall reimburse Lake County for assuming criminal jurisdiction annually to the extent funds are appropriated by the legislature. This became a point of contention, however, as the state legislature has not appropriated a meaningful sum for this purpose in the past, a previous amount of appropriation set to $1, which led to a pending lawsuit between the county and the state. The lawsuit is part of what county commissioners called a “two-pronged approach” to getting the state to meet its obligation, including the HB479. Officials with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have not taken a position on the matter thus far. 

Other bills introduced by Lake County representatives to fund PL280 have not made it through the legislature, however, with Polson Senator Greg Hertz’ Senate Bill 127 to reimburse the county tabled in the House on March 29 after initially passing in the Senate, HB479 is considered the county’s last effort to request legislative funding. Per a resolution passed by the county last year, Lake County may end up withdrawing from PL280 on May 26 if the legislature does not pass a reimbursement bill. 

HB 479 passed the House with a vote of 65-34. It’s now been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further discussion in a hearing scheduled for April 12. 

To track the bill and learn more, visit the Montana Free Press Capitol Tracker at: 

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