Week 5 — Tribal property taxes, partisan interim committees and child welfare

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 that would 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 tribal exemption on property taxes when tribes apply for federal trust designation on land that they purchase — 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. 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 repurchase those lands. 

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

Senate Bill 122 would change the membership of interim legislative 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 Legislature’s makeup, which is currently weighted 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.

The proposed change is significant because interim committees develop bills that lawmakers consider during the following 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, by Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, attempts to address what happens after a child is removed from a home by Child Protective Services. Currently, the soonest that a child and family members appear in court is 20 days after the removal. Critics of that system say that time frame is too long. HB 90 would require that a hearing take place within five business days of a child’s removal from the home. 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.

The Session airs Monday mornings on Montana Public Radio at 7:50 a.m., and on Yellowstone Public Radio at 5:47 a.m. and 7:47 a.m. It’s also available online here or wherever you get your podcasts.