AG Knudsen commends state Legislature for passing critical public safety legislation
HELENA – Following the adjournment of the 68th Montana Legislature late Tuesday, Attorney General Austin Knudsen today commended lawmakers for prioritizing public safety and passing major legislation that will enhance the state Department of Justice’s ability to combat the rise of drugs and crime in Montana.
The Montana Department of Justice spearheaded or actively supported nearly 20 bills that passed the Legislature. The new policies put in place impact the state’s ability to fight human trafficking, the missing and murdered Indigenous persons crisis, sex crimes, illegal drugs, and more. The Legislature also granted the agency authority to hire ten additional criminal justice employees.
“My top priority as Attorney General is the safety and security of Montana communities. The legislation the Department of Justice brought and supported in the session to combat human trafficking, the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis, illicit drugs, and sex crimes and gives law enforcement and prosecutors new tools to keep Montanans safe,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “I greatly appreciate the Legislature and Governor Gianforte for their support of our public safety mission at the Department of Justice.”
The new positions included in the Legislature’s budget are three new major crimes investigators, two new narcotics agents, two new human trafficking agents, an additional internet crimes against children investigator, a prosecutor specializing in crimes against children, a coordinator for the newly created Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program that will improve the response to sexual assault crimes statewide, and a coordinator for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Person Taskforce. Additionally, the Legislature made the temporary Elder Justice Crime Unit permanent, which is comprised of a prosecutor and investigator.
Public safety legislation that the DOJ developed or supported this session includes:
- House Bill 112, sponsored by Rep. Jodee Etchart of Billings, will increase the penalties for human trafficking and will provide prosecutors with more tools to prosecute human traffickers. It expands the definition of human trafficking and will help increase the crackdown on sexual abuse of children and all victims. To read more about the bill, click here.
- Senate Bill 522, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings, creates an emergency lodging grant program to assist in providing short-term lodging in the state to individuals and families that are victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. To read more about the bill, click here.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons
- House Bill 163, sponsored by Rep. Tyson Running Wolf of Browning, extends the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and provides for a full-time program coordinator. To read more about the bill, click here.
- House Bill 18, sponsored by Rep. Tyson Running Wolf of Browning, establishes a missing persons response team training grant program. This bill will bolster the Montana Department of Justice’s response to missing and Indigenous people across the state. To read more about the bill, click here.
- Senate Joint Resolution 5, sponsored by Sen. Bob Brown of Trout Creek, urges Congress to fund law enforcement in Indian Country. To read more about the resolution, click here.
- House Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway of Great Falls, requests an interim study on missing youth and requires the final result of the study to be reported to the Legislature. To read more about the resolution, click here.
- House Bill 79, sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier of Kalispell, will create a sexual assault response network program within the Department of Justice and a Sexual Assault Response Team Committee. This bill will improve the response for sexual assault survivors and help them achieve justice by increasing access to exams conducted by sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs). To read more about the bill, click here.
- House Bill 640, sponsored by Rep. Narrah Hastings of Billings, requires evidence from a sexual assault to be preserved for 75 years from the date of collection. Additionally, survivors may request to be notified before their sexual assault evidence kit and related contents are destroyed. To read more about the bill, click here.
- Senate Bill 38, sponsored by Sen. Bob Brown of Trout Creek, revises statutes related to level designations for sexual offenders. It requires a notice when an offender is leaving the state, provides notice requirements for psychosexual evaluations, and provides public information about sexual offender registration information if deemed necessary by the Montana Department of Justice or the registration agency. To read more about the bill, click here.
- Senate Bill 345, sponsored by Sen. Mark Noland of Bigfork, strengthens Montana’s sex offender laws by making sex with a dead human body a crime and registerable offense. To read more about the bill, click here.
- House Bill 791, sponsored by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger of Kalispell, imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years of jail time, a $50,000 fine, or both, for anyone convicted of trafficking fentanyl in the state of Montana. To read more about the bill, click here.
- Senate Bill 67, sponsored by Sen. Tom McGillvary of Billings, revises drugs scheduled for Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV, and Schedule V controlled substances and provides updates to each listed schedule, enabling more state-level prosecutions. To read more about the bill, click here.
- House Bill 437, sponsored by Rep. Katie Zolnikov of Billings, generally revises criminal drug laws to remove items related to testing drugs from the list of illegal paraphernalia and revises the definition of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that will save money and improve efficiency at the State Crime Lab. To read more about the bill, click here.
Supporting Law Enforcement Officers
- Senate Bill 294, sponsored by Sen. Barry Usher of Billings, will establish an End of Watch Trust to support eligible law enforcement officers and their surviving immediate family in the event of an officer’s death or catastrophic injury in the line of duty. To read more about the bill, click here.
- House Bill 705, sponsored by Rep. Scott Kerns of Great Falls, will revise laws related to coroner’s inquests. This bill will amend the current state statute to allow the jury to select “Suicide by Law Enforcement Intervention” in cases involving suicidal subjects who are seeking law enforcement intervention as a mechanism to manipulate their suicidal process. To read more about the bill, click here.
Other Public Safety
- House Bill 597, sponsored by Rep. Neil Duram of Eureka, authorizes funding for the Department of Justice to implement a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) system. The new system will allow for digital communications including text messages and provide faster and more accurate emergency responses for Montanans in need of help. To read more about the bill, click here.
- House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. Fiona Nave of Columbus, revises computer crime laws to provide definitions of computer use and revises the offense of unlawful use of a computer. To read more about the bill, click here.