While news coverage of the 2015 legislative session focused on high-profile and often contentious issues, legislators in both parties worked together diligently to pass bills I brought forward to improve public safety, protect privacy and strengthen consumer-protection laws.
Leading up to session, the Montana Department of Justice crafted an ambitious and important legislative agenda aimed at addressing real needs throughout the state. To pass these bills, we enlisted the help of a diverse group of legislators, including Republican and Democrat men and women from all over the state.
Building on our landmark DUI reforms from the 2013 session, Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, sponsored our bill doubling the minimum fines for DUI offenses and requiring people to pay an administrative fee when they refuse to provide a breath sample. These changes, along with our efforts to expand the 24/7 Sobriety Program around the state, are important in my goal to reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders. One DUI-related death or injury on our highways is too many.
Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula, carried our bill taking a comprehensive approach to addressing human trafficking. It helps ensure that human traffickers are brought to justice, but it also will help foster a victim-centered approach to those impacted by what truly is modern-day slavery.
Working with Rep. Stephanie Hess, R-Havre, we asked the legislature for authorization to create a permanent sexual assault prosecution unit within the Montana Department of Justice. This will help us dedicate resources to train prosecutors and law enforcement throughout the state to better deal with sex crimes that affect so many Montanans. Much more needs to be done on this issue, and I look forward to working with prosecutors, law enforcement, victim advocates and legislators to achieve real results.
To address real threats to Montanans’ privacy, we brought forward three important measures. Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, carried our bill to fix Montana’s outdated laws against secretly viewing/recording another person by including the use of cell phone cameras and other means made possible by new technology. Rep. Ryan Lynch, D-Butte, was instrumental in our efforts to require companies doing business in Montana to notify our Office of Consumer Protection whenever they have suffered a breach compromising personal data. Working with Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City, to protect constitutional privacy rights, we created penalties for anyone who abuses their authority to access confidential criminal justice information.
Thanks in large part to the hard work of Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, Montana has joined the vast majority of states in prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes and “vaping” equipment to minors. We worked together to address the significant risk to our children’s health posed by the use of e-cigarettes.
Because a growing number of Montana small businesses are becoming victims of “patent trolling,” we worked with Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, to set standards for what constitutes a bad-faith assertion of a patent right. Our main-street businesses deserve legal protection from persons or entities that acquire patents not to develop products but for the sole purpose of suing, intimidating, and/or extorting supposed infringers.
These are just some of the 20 bills my office brought forward this year. All of them passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support and were signed into law. Legislators found common ground, worked together and advanced solutions to address real issues impacting Montanans.
While the legislature’s work may be done for now, our work at the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Justice continues. We will use these new laws and tools to improve public safety, protect privacy and strengthen consumer protection with the goal of helping build a safer and more prosperous Montana.