- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Billings Gazette, April 3, on Gov. Steve Bullock needing to act since ‘Hanna’s Act’ has been gutted:

Don’t fool yourself: A new, amended version of Hanna’s Act, excellent legislation authored by Rep. Rae Peppers, was destroyed by the Montana Senate Monday.

The only question is how much lawmakers are fooling themselves by the new, revised version.

Originally, the bill, titled “Hanna’s Act” after a murdered Northern Cheyenne woman, would have funded an additional position through the Montana Department of Justice for a coordinator to input information about missing indigenous women and children. This problem has grown to alarming levels as crime statistics show that Native American women are exploited and murdered at a much higher rate than virtually any other group. Because of cultural barriers and jurisdictional issues on reservations, many cases go unsolved or are not responded to in a timely manner.

This measure would have created a position specifically to focus on the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women. Secondly, having a full-time person dedicated to the issue, brings a level of urgency and scrutiny to the problem.

Earlier, the Senate stripped the funding from the position, but the bill would have required the Department of Justice to create the position anyway. That version failed in committee on a 5-to-5 tie vote.

During the discussions, it was evident that many lawmakers had the misguided and backward view that tribes in Montana are flush with federal cash and can afford to deal with their own criminal problems.

But that’s treating Native Americans as second-class citizens. We doubt lawmakers would even blink if the same crime rates were present in a white community.

On Friday, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, one of the members who had originally spoken so cluelessly on the issue in the first place, seemingly redeemed herself by “blasting” the bill out of committee onto the Senate floor. However, the new bill has all been gutted and we believe meaningless even as a token piece of legislation.

We believe that a bill like this is an insult to the problem of violence against missing and murdered indigenous women, and we’d suggest that lawmakers kill it and find a more meaningful way to address the problem.

Very little of the original bill still stands.

The Senate has stripped out all of the funding, and left the position optional for the Department of Justice. Maybe even more insulting, it gutted the entire job description. So, if you’re keeping score: It would allow the Department of Justice to create an optional position, without funding and no job description.

Huh. We wonder how far that would go.

Lawmakers are faced with a crisis in Indian Country. And unfortunately, rather than allocating a pittance to it, they’ve stripped the money and then taken out any meaning.

If the Montana Legislature cannot summon $100,000 for coordination and collaboration for law enforcement and protection, then what is its purpose? The most basic responsibility lawmakers have is to ensure public safety.

Lawmakers and citizens must also do more to educate themselves about the complexities of law enforcement on tribal lands. Often, authorities don’t know what other agencies are doing or information falls through the cracks. For example, is the county sheriff responsible for reporting a missing woman? What about the FBI, which handles law enforcement, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs? This is why a central coordinator at the state level and a database is so essential. And that’s also why the Legislature’s blase attitude about funding the position and program is so vexing.

We suggest that the Legislature abandon the bill as it is because it’s a waste of time, and instead we urge executive action from Gov. Steve Bullock.

Fortunately, a path has been suggested by tribal leaders for something that could make a real change. We hope that Bullock does what the lawmakers didn’t, and takes the suggestion of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which urged the governor to create a task force to find solutions.

State government is cash strapped. But the number of women who are missing or stand to become victims of violence is too great to be ignored. We hope that if Bullock creates such a task force that it will collect information that can be used at the next legislative session to convince reluctant lawmakers to fund at least one position and create a program to help curb the scourge of women who are missing or murdered in Montana’s tribal communities.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2uK55Cz


Bozeman Daily Chronicle, April 2, on state needing to tread lightly on sports betting:

A pair of bills are making their way through the Montana Legislature that would make sports betting legal in the state.

The measures come in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued last year that struck down a federal law making sports betting illegal. Montana is one of many states that have passed or are considering laws to make sports betting legal. A Montana House proposal would legalize sports betting under the state lottery. Under a Senate bill, sports gambling would be administered by the Department of Justice and sports gambling license holders would be required to have an alcoholic beverage license to offer sports betting.

Lawmakers may want to think carefully about the latter. The state limits the number of liquor licenses issued to any given area’s based on its population. This restriction has already created a virtual black market for the licenses with those in particularly desirable markets going for $1 million or more. Requiring an alcohol beverage license for an establishment that offers sports betting will only increase the premium on these licenses and give even more disproportionate financial privilege to those who already have alcoholic beverage licenses.

That’s not a good thing. Further inflated prices for alcohol licenses will make it possible for only the most well-heeled individuals or corporations to get into the business. Lawmakers have been trying to even the playing field for liquor licenses by opening up a bidding process for any new licenses issued. But that has been insufficient for making the licenses more accessible to startup businesses in areas like Bozeman, where tourist traffic turns the licenses into veritable gold mines.

The two sports betting bills have been passed in their respective chambers and now must be considered for amendments before some version is likely headed for the governor’s desk. As lawmakers consider these measures, they should at least consider the effects that coupling sports betting with alcoholic beverage license will have on the already exclusive market those licenses.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2FLPUh7


Daily Inter Lake, March 31, on Montana looking at legal sports betting:

Add Montana to the long list of states considering legalized sports betting.

Kalispell Republican Sen. Mark Blasdel recently introduced a bill to the state Legislature that would legalize betting on college and professional sports at self-served kiosks placed inside casinos or bars with a full liquor license. Wagering with mobile apps also would be allowed, as long as it’s done at a licensed sports betting location. Betting would be limited to people 18 years and older.

Blasdel’s proposal comes after the Supreme Court struck down a federal law last year that made most sports gambling illegal. Eight states quickly took advantage, and Montana is now one of 22 other states considering some form of legalized betting, including our neighbors in North Dakota and South Dakota.

Under Blasdel’s bill, the state Department of Justice would oversee the betting process and the state would take in revenue from an 8.5 percent tax on wagers placed. A fiscal note on the bill estimates that Montana would garner about $2 million in revenue in each of the first three years.

Pardon the pun, but it’d be ill-advised for the state to leave that kind of money on the table.

Montana already allows casinos and has a lottery, so it’s not as if sports betting will swing the state’s moral compass in a wildly new direction. The truth is, sports betting is already happening here. Why not regulate and tax the activity for the benefit of all Montanans?

A recent report from the American Gaming Association estimates that Americans placed bets on some 70 million NCAA basketball tournament brackets this month. At an average of $29 wagered, that totals about $10.4 billion bet on this one tournament alone.

That’s a lot of cheddar, and Montana should move to get in on the action. Revenue from legal sportsbooks could help keep property taxes down or stave off talk of a state sales tax.

We can look to the Montana Lottery as an example of a program that works. Created in 1986, it has returned about $259 million to the state over the past three decades. Currently that money is earmarked to go in the state’s general fund. Sports betting revenue from Blasdel’s bill would go into the general fund as well.

Blasdel’s proposal passed the Finance and Claims Committee on a 15 to 4 vote on Friday. Separately, the Montana House has endorsed a bill that would legalize sports betting and put the Montana Lottery in charge of the operation, with profits going to the state treasury and education scholarships.

Either way, we’re glad to see the conversation is moving forward, and we encourage our legislators to take a hard look at the benefits of regulating and collecting revenue from legal sportsbooks. It’s a bet worth making.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2UAOOyp

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