What happens now with the Flathead Water Compact?

Credit: Flickr,  Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ

Credit: Flickr, Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are now mulling their options after the 2013 Montana Legislature failed to pass the Flathead Water Rights Compact; but CSKT officials are hopeful the agreement can be passed by the 2015 Legislature.

The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, made up of nine appointed members, has been working with the CSKT on the Flathead Water Compact for 12 years. The commission crafts agreements with the tribes to settle water disputes between the general public and tribes, who hold senior water rights guaranteed in treaties signed in the 1800s. Flathead is the last compact left for the state to pass with a tribe, and it’s the only one not to have passed through the Montana Legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee tabled the bill after its March hearing. Lawmakers heard long testimony from supporters and opponents of the compact. Some felt more time needed to be taken to evaluate the concerns of those opposed, who say the compact will be taking the water rights of non-tribal irrigators.

“Well, the Legislature hasn’t been working on it for twelve years,” said Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls. “It was dropped on our lap at the end of February and it’s a 1200-page document.”

Fielder said she wanted to understand a document as complex as the compact before voting on it. Fielder supports the House Judiciary Committee tabling the bill and hopes the Legislature will be able to take the next two years to address concerns.

CSKT Communications Director Rob McDonald says negotiations on the compact are finished.

“They’re hard-forged agreements that took a lot of hard work,” McDonald said. “(The negotiations) were aired out in the public very intensely for the last four years.”

Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill from Sen. Verdell Jackson which would have attempted to re-open negotiations between the state and CSKT. Water Rights Compact Commission member Rep. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, said he agrees with that veto.

“You can ask the tribes to come back and it’s entirely up to them whether they do or not,” Salomon said. “We can’t force anyone to renegotiate like some people want.”
In Bullock’s veto message, he directs the Compact Commission to draft a report addressing the concerns of Flathead Water Compact opponents. CSKT hopes the legislature decides to adopt the compact in 2015, otherwise the tribes have the option of taking their disputes to court. The state estimates as many as 10-thousand claims may be filed if that happens.

Bill to de-criminalize homosexual sex in House Judiciary Committee after passing Senate

Senator Tom Facey (D-Missoula)

Senator Tom Facey (D-Missoula)

A bill to remove a state law criminalizing homosexual sex continues its path through the legislature.

The law in question was declared unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997, but still remains on the books. A bill to remove that obsolete language has come before lawmakers multiple times before, unsuccessfully.

The bill this session (SB107) passed the Senate 38 to 11 and is now before the House Judiciary Committee. Sponsor, Missoula Democratic Senator Tom Facey says it’s practical to remove a law declared unconstitutional.

 “Law enforcement can be confused with this statute on our books. Anybody that can be charged with this crime, the case would be thrown out in the first court it came to,” Facey said during the bill’s Friday hearing.  Supporters of Facey’s bill say the law only still exists on the books to be hurtful to homosexuals.

Opponent Dallas Erickson, representing a group called Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law, agrees the Supreme Court has ruled on consenting homosexual adults, and accepts removing language criminalizing them from law. But he wants to keep the rest of the law intact concerning homosexual rape.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I saw the harm in deviant sexual rape of children of harm and adults,” he said. “There is harm that does not exist necessarily with other forms of rape.”

Supporters of the bill say rape is addressed sufficiently in other parts of state law, and discriminating upon the gender of someone accused of rape is unconstitutional.

The bill to remove the law now waits for action from the House Judiciary Committee.


Abortion bill would require parental consent prior to abortion for a minor

Abortion opponents are supporting a bill which would require parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. The bill follows up on a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by voters last fall. Legislative Referendum 120 requires parental notification prior to abortion for a minor under the age of 16. 70 percent of voters voted in favor of it and it is now state law.

The bill before the House Judiciary Committee takes the idea from LR 120 one step further. Under the new bill, HB 391,  a girl under the age of 18 would need a parent’s notarized written permission before seeking an abortion. A similar measure was passed by the Legislature in 1995, but was struck down by the Montana Supreme Court in ‘99.

Montana ACLU Public Policy Director Niki Zupanic says the court pointed to the state Constitution’s strong right to privacy, which can only be overridden by a compelling state interest. The court says minors have these rights too, unless the law in question is found to enhance their safety.

“It’s that…part that is really being challenged by the law that is before you today,” Zupanic told the committee,  “Does a consent requirement help minors or hurt minors?”

She says it was found to hurt minors more “by making them delay care or driving them into dangerous situations where they may harm themselves or seek an illegal abortion.”

Opponents to the new consent bill say over 90 percent of teens seeking an abortion now do consult with their parents. They say those who don’t may be afraid of parental abuse or may be pregnant due to the sexual abuse of a family member.

State Director of Montana Right to Life Greg Trude supports the consent bill. He says doctors need permission before performing other medical procedures.

“Suturs , a wart removed, a physical, a checkup, a Tylenol, they have to have parental permission,” he said.

Opponents say abortion falls under a different category.

“How many young women do you know that harm themselves because they took a tylenol, how many young women run away because of a wart, how many young women are thrown out of their homes, verbally abused or worse because of braces?” Asked Lindsey Love, speaking on behalf of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Division has submitted a legal note on the bill, saying the Supreme Court’s striking down of the similar 1995 bill brings up constitutional concerns about this bill too.

Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Lazloffy disagrees.He says the heavy majority voting in favor of last fall’s ballot initiative shows the public believes the Montana Supreme Court made a mistake.

“We had the vote on LR 120, the notification initiative, the will of the people was clearly articulated, and I believe that needs to be taken into account and I believe that proves the court went way beyond what the people wanted when they were interpreting the constitution,” he said.

The House Judiciary committee did not take a vote on the bill.


Should Montana drop the death penalty?

Death Penalty abolition supporter Ronald Keine was sent to death row for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated nine days before his execution.

Death Penalty abolition supporter Ronald Keine was sent to death row for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated nine days before his execution.

The House Judiciary Committee heard an hour of testimony each for supporters and opponents of a measure seeking to abolish Montana’s death penalty, HB 370. We told you about this bill sponsored by Republicans and Democrats last week.

Sponsor Representative Doug Kary (R-Billings) says the death penalty is “wasting millions of dollars on less than a handful of cases while our police, courts and prisons are asking for more resources.” He calls it a failed policy and says the death penalty should be replaced with life in prison without parole. Kary says the fact that Montana has not executed an innocent person is out of sheer luck “and we cannot trust luck with matters of life and death.”

Detroit Resident Ronald Keine spoke in favor of the bill. He was falsely accused of a murder committed and covered up by a police officer and says that officer confessed to the murder to a church preacher—nine days before Keine was scheduled to go to the gas chamber. he says more than 140 other Americans have been exonerated from death row.

“I don’t trust the government with my health care, my tax dollars,(or) my guns, I sure as hell don’t trust them with my life,” he said.

Opponents of the abolition bill say the death penalty is a useful tool for prosecutors and a powerful deterrent to the most heinous crimes.

“If you say we’ll take the death penalty off if you plead guilty, it ends that trial, it’s actually saved money in those cases,” said Representative Roy Hollandsworth (R-Brady). He was just a child when a man attacked his family.”He killed my Dad, shot a hand off of my brother, shot him in the leg, tried to shoot everybody, tried to strangle me,” Hollandsworth said. “He got life in prison.”

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert says the system for applying the death penalty is very strict, limited and thorough: “With the help of the Attorney General we proceed as conscientiously, as dispassionately and as objectively as we can in these cases.”

Committee members will be voting on whether or not to send the abolition bill to the House floor next Friday.

Montana currently has two people on death row.