- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - State lawmakers on Monday chose 14 topics for in-depth study in advance of the 2017 legislative session.

The issues chosen range from sexual assault statutes and policies to laws aimed at protecting youth from sports-related concussions. The studies conducted between legislative sessions can help set the agenda and result in bills for the 2017 session.

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, brought the sexual assault study proposal before the 2015 Legislature.

“This is a major study,” said Sands, who added it has support from Republican Attorney General Tim Fox and the Montana university system. “We’ve never taken a look at this whole section of law.”

The study, which takes a statewide look at the issue, comes after federal investigators found the city of Missoula and University of Montana failed to properly respond to reports of sexual assault after a 2012 investigation. Federal officials said earlier this month the Missoula Police Department has made all required changes to improve how it handles rape cases and that federal officials are still working with other agencies.

Lawmakers also plan to study ride-sharing, net-metering, local fire and emergency services, and ownership of personal information, among other topics.

The only study in a list of proposals that didn’t make the cut would have looked at eyewitness-identification policies. Legislative staffers said a bill could result in unfunded mandates for law enforcement agencies.

A bipartisan committee chose the topics Monday from resolutions that passed the 2015 Legislature.

Seven additional studies also will take place after related bills passed the Legislature and became law. Two of those studies will focus on improving outcomes for those in the children’s mental health system and on studying the implementation of a mental health care program. Others will focus on judicial redistricting, the state’s criminal justice system and studying the office of the state public defender.

The interim studies will cost the state nearly $1.4 million in travel, postage, copy costs and other expenses associated with hosting legislative interim committees.

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