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DUI bill revived but effort draws criticism over link attempt to missing Native women bills

DUI processing center

A mobile Montana Highway Patrol DUI processing center is shown in this file photo.

As legislators revived failed DUI legislation in a Saturday morning hearing, Democrats and members of the public objected to a plan to tie its fate to two bills meant to address missing Native women.

A Senate bill that made major changes to driving under the influence laws was voted down in a House committee Friday. But bill sponsor Sen. Keith Regier, a Republican from Kalispell, requested an amendment to a so-called budget companion bill to incorporate the intent of his defeated bill.

The amendment also would have inserted the language of two bills related to missing and murdered Native women in the middle of the DUI language.

That includes Hanna's Act, named after a Native woman who was missing for several days before she was found murdered on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in 2013, to create a missing persons specialist. The other bill is the LINC Act, for Looping in Native Communities. It would create a task force and competitive grant process for tribal colleges to develop a network to collect and share information about missing Native women. 

The bills are part of many this session meant to address what's being called an "epidemic" of missing and murdered Native women. 

The portion of Regier's amendment Saturday dealing with the bills related to missing Native women was eventually removed by the Senate Finance and Claims committee after several Democrats strongly protested.

The DUI amendment was put on the bill and passed out of the committee.

"I think it's shameful that we would tie a DUI bill that has died in the House and leverage the lives of Native American women to get this agenda passed," said Sen. Tom Jacobson, a Democrat from Great Falls. "It is disgraceful and it's an abuse of our power. It's an abuse of the system."

Sen. Webber, a Democrat from Browning, also objected before the amendment was segregated.

"Indian women lives mean something. We just had another little girl, 15 in Polson, disappear in the last couple days. This is disgusting," Webber said.

The DUI language would make changes to state law to have judges stack DUI convictions and allow law enforcement to get a warrant for a blood draw on a first DUI. A change in the amendment would only allow those blood draws on a first offence in the case of what Regeir called an aggravated DUI.

The amended bill would also make a sobriety program or ignition interlock mandatory after a second DUI conviction and require that out-of-state DUI convictions be counted in Montana when determining if a license should be suspended. 

After the committee passed the amended bill, members of the public told lawmakers they were frustrated at how the process played out because no public comment was allowed before the committee voted.

There was a public hearing scheduled for the bill, but it was not held.

"You've already made your decision and now we're having a public hearing. It's backward," John MacDonald, a lobbyist for the Montana Newspaper Association, told the committee after it voted on the bill.

John Metropolis, a Helena attorney, told the committee members their actions Saturday make "a mockery of the system, of your efforts, of my efforts."

"Do we really have a say? Do the citizens ... do we really have a say? I've been in front of every court in this land except the U.S. Supreme Court and I've never shaken with such passion as I am right now. This should not stand," Metropolis said.

Committee chair Sen. Ryan Osmundson said the policies in the amendment had had public hearings earlier in the session and pointed to a rule change this year meant to make companion bills more transparent. It allows a member of the House to object and trigger a public hearing for a companion bill. That could happen when the bill moves back to the House, likely next week.


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