HELENA – Proposed legislation to support Lake County law enforcement services on the Flathead Indian Reservation has cleared a hurdle in Helena.
The Montana Senate on Wednesday endorsed SB 127, 34-16 on a preliminary vote. All 34 Republicans voted in favor, while all 16 Democrats were opposed to the measure.
Supporters said negotiating a reimbursement amount with Lake County would be a better deal for the state, and it would avoid the uncertainty created if the county withdrew from the agreement.
Opponents said the bill was essentially creating a windfall for a single county.
Senate Bill 127 will now go before the Senate Finance and Claims Committee for consideration.
Lake County is the only county in Montana where local law enforcement has responsibility for felony cases involving Native Americans on tribal land, under federal Public Law 280.
It’s because of an agreement between the state and federal governments and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, dating back to the 1960s.
County leaders say the system has worked well for years, but they’re warning it can’t continue unless the state helps them with the burden.
County leaders began taking action last year to pressure the state to contribute some of the costs by filing a lawsuit against the state seeking reimbursement.
County commissioners announced in December that if Montana doesn’t start providing some funding, they’ll withdraw from the agreement and ask the state government to take over law enforcement.