While the federal budget plays a significant role in relieving poverty, promoting health, and building economic opportunity in Indian Country, the state budget also has a substantial impact on the lives of American Indians living on- and off-reservation in Montana. Through the state budget, the Montana Legislature identifies, prioritizes, and funds the public services we all rely on for our safety, prosperity, and stability.
The 2019 Montana Legislature considered a number of bills that directly impact American Indians. In the interim, the State-Tribal Relations Committee (STRC) acts as a liaison with tribal governments, encourages intergovernmental cooperation, conducts interim studies as assigned, may propose legislation for subsequent legislatures, and reports its activities, findings, and recommendations to the Legislature. Although not an exhaustive list, below is an overview of legislative activity from the 2019 Legislature.
For easier navigation, click the section title or bill number to navigate directly to a particular section or bill. Click the bill title or section header in the body to navigate back to the table of contents.
|Creating the Reentry Cultural Programming Grant Program
|Allocating Supportive Housing Grant Funds to Those Serving American Indian Offenders
|General Appropriations Act (Indian Country Economic Development)
|Revise Definition of "High-Poverty County" for Big Sky Economic Development
|Expanding Empowerment Zone Tax Credit Incentives
|General Appropriations Act (Tribal Colleges)
|Create Tribal College Credit Transfer and Student Opportunity Task Force
|Encourage Grow Your Own Programs to Address Teacher Shortage
|Create Computer Coding Student Employment Pilot Program
|Allowing for the Community Health Aide Program for Tribal Facilities
|Generally Revise Healthcare Laws and Permanently Expand Medicaid
|Appropriating Funds for Suicide Prevention
|Allowing Peer Support Services to Be Reimbursed Under Medicaid
|Study Effects of Drugs on Infants
|General Appropriations Act (Montana Indian Language Preservation)
|Providing Funding for School District Programs Serving English Learners
|Extend the Cultural Integrity and Commitment Act (Language Immersion Programs)
|Fund an Indian Language and Culture Course Through Montana Digital Academy
|Resolution Supporting U.N. International Year of Indigenous Languages
|Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
|Revising Laws Related to the Report of Missing Children
|Establishing "Hanna's Act"
|Revising Laws Related to Missing Persons Reports
|Require OPI to Create and Maintain Electronic Directory Photograph Repository
|Create the Looping in Native Communities Network Grant Program
|Requesting an Interim Study of Options to Break the Cycle of Youth Who Run Away
|Repeal Temporary Tribal Property Tax Exemption
|Revise Temporary Exemption for Certain Tribal Property
|Generally Revise 9-1-1 Laws
|Expand Access to Board of Investment Loans to Tribal Governments
|Require Agency Reporting on Financial Assistance to Tribes
|Require Decennial Report on Economic Impact of Indian Reservations
American Indians experience a disproportionately high arrest and incarceration rate in the state of Montana. Barriers to accessing adequate support during incarceration and upon reentry often result in higher recidivism rates. In the 2017-2018 interim, the STRC explored strategies for reducing recidivism and improving outcomes for American Indians involved with the criminal justice system. Below are the policies recommended by the STRC to the 2019 Legislature.
To learn more about criminal justice reform in Montana, read MBPC’s reports, “Criminal Justice Reinvestment in Montana: Improving Outcomes for American Indians,” “Jurisdiction, Justice Systems, and American Indians in Montana,” and “Breaking the Cycle: Reducing Recidivism by Improving Defense and Reentry Systems.”
HB 40 would have appropriated $300,000 to the Board of Crime Control for the biennium to implement a reentry cultural programming grant program. The program would have promoted the use of cultural programming by entities that serve American Indians involved with the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism and increase community reintegration success rates. Cultural programming would have included the use of traditional practices to provide recovery support, recidivism prevention, and community resource referrals.
SB 13 would have revised the existing supportive housing grant program to require the Board of Crime Control to award a percentage of supportive housing grant funding to services provided to American Indians who have been involved with the criminal justice system. The percentage of funding awarded to services provided to American Indians would have been equal to the percentage of persons incarcerated or supervised by the Department of Corrections in the previous year who were American Indian.
The Indian Country Economic Development (ICED) Grant Program awards funds to projects that strengthen Montana’s economy through the development and enhancement of business opportunities throughout Indian Country. The program funds projects for individual American Indians, tribal governments and tribal organizations, and tribal organizations that support private-sector business development on reservations and in tribal communities. Since its inception in 2005, the Legislature has funded the ICED program on a one-time-only (OTO) basis, meaning its funding must be reapproved by the Legislature each legislative session. Despite the governor’s request to make ICED funding permanent by moving the program to the base budget, the Legislature maintained the program’s OTO status in HB 2 at a level of $1.75 million for the 2021 biennium. This funding level is an increase from the 2019 biennium and reflects the amount requested in the governor’s proposed budget.
To learn more about the ICED program, read MBPC’s report, “Economic Development in Indian Country: A State Investment with Continued Returns.”
HB 19 changes the definition of “high-poverty county” in the Big Sky Economic Development Program. The Big Sky Economic Development Program funds projects that promote long-term economic growth in Montana. Entities eligible to receive funding include tribal governments. Previously, the program defined “high-poverty county” as a county in Montana with a poverty rate of at least 14 percent. Moving forward, “high-poverty county” will apply to a county in Montana with a poverty rate greater than the average poverty rate in Montana, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Currently, the poverty rate is 12.5 percent. Projects serving high-poverty counties are eligible to receive greater funding. Because the average poverty rate in Montana is currently lower than 14 percent, HB 19 should expand the number of projects eligible to receive additional funding for serving high-poverty counties. However, overall program funding will not change. Thus, the state anticipates no fiscal impact to the state as a result of the change.
HB 775 would have expanded the empowerment zone credit for taxpayers filing a personal income tax return to include counties that are considered high-poverty. Under current law, individuals and businesses filing an income tax return can claim a credit for each new employee the employer hires in a designated empowerment zone. Empowerment zones are intended to be tools for economic development by encouraging business growth through tax credits. A county is considered to be high-poverty when at least 14 percent of its residents are in poverty. The state projected that this change would have made an additional 520 businesses eligible for the tax credit. HB 775 would have reduced general fund revenue.
Funding for tribal colleges supports a portion of the costs of educating full-time resident, nonbeneficiary (non-tribal members) students attending the seven tribal colleges in Montana. For many years, tribal colleges in Montana did not receive funding to support the education they provide to nonbeneficiary students and were left to absorb the cost in their budgets. To help offset the cost, the 1995 Legislature established the Tribal College Assistance Program, which became permanent in 1997.
Total funding for tribal colleges in HB 2 for the 2021 biennium is just more than $2 million, $350,000 of which are new one-time-only funds for tribal colleges to help students prepare for and complete the HiSET exam. The HiSET exam grants students the opportunity to earn a high school equivalency credential. The funding level falls slightly short of that requested in the governor’s proposed budget.
A related bill that passed, SB 212 revises the annual payment schedule for funding received by tribal colleges for the services they provide to nonbeneficiary students. It puts in place a deadline by which tribal colleges must report to the Board of Regents the number of eligible nonbeneficiary students and a deadline by which the regents must calculate and distribute payment to tribal colleges. SB 212 has no impact on the amount of funding tribal colleges may receive per nonbeneficiary student.
To read about some of the benefits that tribal colleges provide to the state, read MBPC’s report, “An Outstanding Return on Investment: Tribal Colleges and Their Contributions to Montana.”
HB 135 would have created a temporary tribal college credit transfer and student opportunity task force, including representation from each of the seven tribal colleges, the Montana University System, the Legislature, and the Director of Indian Affairs. Currently, credit transferability between tribal colleges and institutions within the Montana University System presents barriers for degree completion. The task force would have been responsible for ensuring the transferability of credits earned by students at the tribal colleges in Montana to institutions within the Montana University System. HB 135 would have appropriated $100,000 for the biennium for the task force to perform its duties.
To address teacher shortages and the student achievement gap in rural and reservation schools, HB 420 would have appropriated $500,000 for the biennium for the Commissioner of Higher Education to administer a grant program for rural and reservation school districts to develop teacher pipelines. The grant program would have supported school districts in developing programs that encourage students to pursue careers in teaching.
Students in tribal communities lack access to high-wage jobs and face additional barriers to entry into the computer sciences. Early youth employment experiences are critical to preparing young people for careers later in life. Moreover, technology skills are key to workforce readiness and are a predictor of job success. HB 774 would have created a computer coding pilot program to be administered by the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) to provide students in tribal communities with paid on-the-job learning opportunities, workforce readiness skills, and exposure to the high-demand field of computer science. The DLI would have awarded grants using existing resources to entities providing tribal youth age 14 through 18 with these opportunities.
Initiated by the Indian Health Service (IHS) in Alaska in 1968 in response to growing health concerns and limited access to care in rural Alaska, a Community Health Aide Program (CHAP) is designed to expand health care access to underserved tribal communities by allowing certified paraprofessionals to provide care. In 2016, IHS began the process of expanding the program to the lower 48 states. HB 599 establishes a CHAP in Montana and authorizes Medicaid coverage for services provided through CHAP to Medicaid enrollees. HB 599 further directs the Department of Public Health and Human Services to apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a state plan amendment or a research and demonstration project waiver to authorize Medicaid coverage of services provided through CHAP. Certified paraprofessionals include community health aides, behavioral health aides, and dental health aide therapists. The program sunsets on September 30, 2023.
HB 658 continues Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, providing health care coverage for nearly 96,000 Montanans, including nearly 16,000 American Indians. The continuation of the program includes some significant changes. Most notable of those changes is the addition of community engagement or work requirements for some enrollees, effective January 1, 2020. Those enrollees who do not meet one of the exemptions specific to the work requirements will need to show they are working 80 hours per month. Using currently available data, however, the Office of Budget and Program Planning expects that more than 90 percent of enrolled individuals are either meeting the community engagement requirements or are exempt from those requirements. The state will submit a waiver to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to implement the new requirements.
To read more about Montana’s continuation of Medicaid expansion, including new provisions of the law, read MBPC’s blog post, “Access to Health Care Coverage for Nearly 100,000 Montanans Protected with Continuation of Medicaid Expansion.” To read more about the benefits of Medicaid expansion to Indian Country, read MBPC’s report, “Medicaid Expansion in Indian Country: Improving the Health of Individuals and Communities.”
Suicide continues to be a major public health issue for Montana and is among the leading causes of preventable death in the state. For almost 40 years, Montana has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. The rates are particularly high for veterans and American Indian youth. HB 696 appropriates $500,000 to the Department of Public Health and Human Services for the biennium for grants to support suicide prevention efforts for the following groups: service members, veterans, and their families; American Indian youth; and youth more generally. Tribes and tribal organizations are eligible to receive grant funding.
To read more about suicide prevention in Indian Country, read MBPC’s report, “Indian Country Suicide Prevention: A Critical Investment for Our Communities.”
SB 30 allows certified adult behavioral health peer support services to qualify as medical assistance under the Montana Medicaid program. SB 30 appropriates $2.5 million from the mental health services special revenue account and $4.6 million in federal special revenue to the Department of Public Health and Human Services for the biennium to pay for behavioral health peer support specialists (through Medicaid). Behavioral health peer support specialists use personal experience to provide support, mentoring, guidance, and advocacy to individuals struggling with behavioral health issues. The state estimates that approximately 5,000 adults are eligible for peer support services.
Between 2006 and 2015, the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) found an increased prevalence of babies born with substance exposure and withdrawal symptoms. HJ 32 tasks the 2019 Legislature with studying best practices for reducing opioid and other drug use by pregnant women. The study will include representatives from the DPHHS, local county health departments, hospitals, health care providers, substance use disorder treatment providers, and other interested parties. The study must conclude before September 15, 2020.
Of all students enrolled in Montana’s K-12 public schools, 14 percent are American Indian. Of those students, 15.1 percent are enrolled in special education, as compared to 9.7 percent of white students. Overall, the achievement gap between American Indian students and white students is significant. In the 2017-2018 interim, the STRC looked at strategies for improving American Indian student outcomes and paid particular attention to using language as a tool for doing that.
Across the nation, tribal languages are vanishing at an alarming rate, taking with them a vital piece of culture. Established in 2013 as a commitment by the state of Montana to protect American Indian and Montana culture and history, the Montana Indian Language Preservation (MILP) Program funds language preservation efforts of tribal governments. The Legislature has historically funded the program on a one-time-only (OTO) basis. Despite the governor’s request to move the program to the base budget, the Legislature maintained the program’s OTO status in HB 2 at a level of $1.5 million for the 2021 biennium. This funding level is an increase from the 2019 biennium and reflects the amount requested in the governor’s proposed budget.
A related bill that passed, HB 33 extends the MILP program in statute through June 30, 2023. HB 33 does not provide funding.
Had it passed, HB 371 would have created a permanent funding source from severance taxes for language preservation programs. The funding source would have received $1 million per fiscal year to be used for language preservation programs.
To learn more about language preservation efforts in Montana, read MBPC’s report, “Continued Preservation of Tribal Languages in Montana.”
HB 18 would have provided state matching funds for school districts receiving federal funding for providing programs serving students with limited English proficiency. HB 18 came before the Legislature at the request of the STRC. One focus area of the STRC during the 2017-2018 interim included better supporting students who are not proficient in English and who have another primary language spoken at home. The STRC found that American Indian student achievement lags behind white student achievement. For students with limited English proficiency, the achievement gap is more pronounced. Of English learners in Montana, 76 percent come from households where a tribal language is spoken in the home. Montana law requires the Legislature to provide a basic system of free quality public schools that guarantee equality of educational opportunity for all students, including those with limited English proficiency. Montana is one of four states that do not provide state funding for English learners.
HB 41 extends the termination date of the Cultural Integrity Commitment Act from June 30, 2019, to June 30, 2023. HB 41 came before the Legislature at the request of the STRC. In 2015, the Legislature passed the act to encourage school districts to create language immersion programs on their campuses to promote student success and tribal language preservation. Immersion programs provide students with instruction in a tribal language for at least 50 percent of the day. Because of the increased costs associated with creating language immersion programs, school districts that do so are eligible to receive additional American Indian Achievement Gap, Indian Education for All, and Quality Educator payments. Currently, four school districts have immersion programs.
Had it passed, HB 263 would have revised laws related to language immersion programs by changing the definition of immersion program to vary the level of instruction in a tribal language as students progress. HB 263 also would have included funding for immersion programs in the school funding formula and removed the termination date of the Cultural Integrity Commitment Act.
To learn more about language immersion programs in Montana, read MBPC’s report, “Continued Preservation of Tribal Languages in Montana.”
HB 466 would have appropriated $25,000 to the Montana Digital Academy to develop and implement one tribal language and culture middle school sampler course. The sampler course model gives students the opportunity to learn several languages before high school to inform the language-learning experience they ultimately pursue. The sampler course program currently offers five world languages, none of which is a tribal language.
HJ 20 demonstrates the 2019 Montana Legislature’s support of the United Nations’ proclamation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The proclamation draws attention to the critical loss of tribal languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize, and promote them.
American Indians disproportionately account for missing persons cases in Montana. While American Indians represent 6.7 percent of the population in Montana, American Indians accounted for 25 percent of all missing persons as of August 6, 2018. American Indian women and girls account for 30 percent of all missing women and girls, and American Indian children overall account for nearly 40 percent of all missing children cases in Montana. Given the overrepresentation of American Indians in missing persons cases, the STRC focused much of its attention on the issue.
HB 20 requires all law enforcement authorities in the state to submit information regarding a missing child to the missing children information program established by the Montana Department of Justice; allows parents, guardians, or legal custodians to report cases of children whose whereabouts are unknown, regardless of the circumstances; and specifies procedures for investigating and reporting cases of children believed to be missing as a result of a custody dispute. HB 20 came before the Legislature at the request of the STRC.
HB 21, or Hanna’s Act, was at the center of the package of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) bills requested by the STRC. It authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to assist with the investigation of all missing persons cases, requires the DOJ to hire a missing persons specialist, and appropriates $205,000 to the DOJ for the biennium. The Legislature made the passage of Hanna’s Act contingent upon SB 312 (below).
HB 54 requires all law enforcement authorities in the state of Montana to accept a missing persons report, without delay, unless there are extenuating circumstances. It also specifies timeframes by which missing persons reports must be entered into the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Information Center database. HB 54 came before the Legislature at the request of the STRC.
SB 40 requires the Office of Public Instruction to create and maintain an electronic directory of individual students, complete with student photographs. Photographs may be used only to support law enforcement authorities with missing children cases. If a child is reported missing and is included in the photograph repository, law enforcement authorities must include the photograph in the missing child report. Parents or guardians will be the given the option each year to choose to include a child in the repository. The Department of Justice will have continuous access to the repository. SB 40 came before the Legislature at the request of the STRC.
Despite the disproportionately high rates of missing American Indian people in Montana, there is no comprehensive data collection system for reporting or tracking missing American Indian people. SB 312 creates the Looping in Native Communities network grant program, also known as LINC, to create a network that supports tribal efforts to identify, report, and find missing American Indian people in Montana. One of the tribal colleges in Montana will receive the grant to administer the program. SB 312 also creates a missing indigenous persons task force to administer the grant program and to identify and improve jurisdictional barriers and communication between law enforcement agencies investigating missing persons cases. The task force will receive $25,000 for the biennium to award as matching funds to tribes implementing LINC.
SJ 2 came before the Legislature at the request of the STRC. It would have tasked the 2019 Legislature with studying the reasons youth repeatedly run away and the services or interventions that could help to break that cycle. In 2017, American Indian youth accounted for 28 percent of the youth reported missing multiple times. The study would have included the economic impacts of youth who run away, including costs to schools, law enforcement, the judicial system, and social services.
HB 401 would have repealed SB 412, which the 2011 Montana Legislature passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. SB 412 created a temporary tribal property tax exemption for tribally owned fee lands when those lands have a trust application pending with the federal government. In Montana, property that is owned by federal, state, and local governments is tax-exempt. Tribal fee land is subject to property taxes, while trust land is tax-exempt. The temporary property tax exemption facilitates the process by which tribal governments protect and restore reservation lands that the federal government made available to non-Indians through the General Allotment Act of 1887. Through the practice of allotment, the federal government collectively took more than 90 million acres from tribes and sold it to non-Indians, often without compensating tribes. This practice ultimately created the patchwork of fee and trust lands on reservations today. As designed, allotment hurt tribal economies, cultures, governments, and the overall well-being of American Indians. In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act as a commitment to reverse the harmful consequences of allotment and to restore tribal lands. SB 412 honors that commitment and recognizes the sovereign political status of tribes.
To read more about HB 401, read MBPC’s blog post, “House Bill 401 Perpetuates Policy Rooted in Racism.”
Related to HB 401, HB 733 would have revised the temporary tribal property tax exemption to allow counties to recapture property taxes from tribal fee lands, should the Bureau of Indian Affairs deny the fee-to-trust application.
HB 150 revises existing 9-1-1 laws to allow tribal governments to establish or participate in a 9-1-1 system that transmits and responds to emergency communications. It further adds American Indian representation to the Department of Administration’s 9-1-1 advisory council and promotes collaboration among tribal and local governments. HB 150 makes tribal governments participating in the 9-1-1 system eligible for department funding for the purpose of carrying out related duties. HB 150 is effective immediately.
HB 428 expands eligibility for the INTERCAP and infrastructure loan programs to include tribal governments. Before HB 428, eligible loan recipients included state and local governments. The Montana INTERCAP program funds a variety of government-related projects, including property improvements and grant-writing. Infrastructure loan program funding is limited to infrastructure-related projects, including water treatment facilities and roads. HB 428 is effective immediately.
HB 482 would have required certain state agencies, including the Departments of Public Health and Human Services and Commerce, to prepare reports on financial assistance provided to tribes each fiscal year. Financial assistance would have included direct state funds and indirect pass-through federal funds. HB 482 would have further required the Office of Budget and Program Planning to collect, compile, analyze, and summarize the agency reports for publication. The bill would not have required tribes to contribute to the reports. After passing the House and Senate, the governor vetoed HB 482.
Between fiscal years 2003 and 2009, the seven reservation communities in Montana and the Little Shell Tribe contributed more than $6.6 billion in public sector dollars to the Montana economy. HB 632 appropriates $48,000 to the Department of Commerce to publish an updated decennial report on the economic contributions and impacts of reservations in Montana. HB 632 specifies that the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana author the report. The report will measure contributions from both the public and private sectors. While the report will provide much-needed information on the economic landscapes of reservation communities in Montana and the state of Montana as a whole, it cost the department nearly $500,000 to produce the report for fiscal years 2003 through 2009.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.