Lake County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution of intent to withdraw from public law 280 during a public meeting Monday morning.
Public Law 280 is a federal law under which the state and Lake County agreed in 1963 that the county will investigate and prosecute felony cases against Native Americans on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
During the meeting, commissioners voiced concerns about the costs of the current structure of the law, saying those costs exceed more than $4 million a year for county taxpayers, according to an analysis done through the state in 2017.
Lake County is the only Indian Reservation county in the state where local law enforcement handles felony cases against Native Americans.
The commissioners are asking the state for reimbursement for the past eight years as well as monetary guarantees moving forward under law 280.
Without outside help, Lake County Commissioner Bill Barron says the county is overwhelmed as they face a growing population, with road and facility upgrades badly needed.
“Out of all the county taxes, the property taxes that are collected, the county actually gets about $12.9 million to operate on, so when you take $4 million out of that to put into something that we don’t feel that we should be funding in the first place, that’s a huge hit to the taxpayers,” added Barron.
In an email response, Governor Gianforte's office responded to MTN New's request for comment.
"The legislature, not the governor, has the authority to fund PL 280. The governor’s office recognizes the right of Lake County, per Montana law Code Annotated 2-1-306, to withdraw from PL 280."
We will have more on this ongoing story as information develops.