Dutiful huckleberries to Montana’s U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, for taking up an important bill to address the disproportionately high number of missing or murdered Native American women. Savanna’s Act is named for a Spirit Lake Tribal member who was eight months pregnant when she was murdered in Fargo, North Dakota. It earned unanimous approval in the Senate last year but was blocked by House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who has since retired. The bill would require the U.S. Department of Justice to update its online databases, standardize law enforcement protocols and provide for technical assistance and training to tribes and the agencies that work most closely with them, among other things. It deserves prompt consideration and passage in Congress.
Red chokecherry ink to the partial government shutdown that has, among other disruptions, forced the National Park Service to dip into entrance fees to maintain basic services at those parks that remain open. In Montana, that includes both Glacier and Yellowstone. While the parks are open for the most part, big events such as the public open house concerning Sperry Chalet have been put on hold while the shutdown drags on. And because the federal government is the second-largest employer in Montana, the shutdown has left some 13,000 federal employees in the state either at home or working while awaiting an uncertain paycheck.
Fortunately, park advocacy groups and volunteers have stepped up to fill the gap. In addition to donating their own money and supplies, volunteers are hauling out trash and cleaning rest areas. Each of them should get a special huckleberry pass to visit Montana’s national parks for free for the rest of the year. So too should generous financial institutions like Missoula Federal Credit Union, which is offering direct support to furloughed federal employees through emergency loans, waived late fees, skipped loan payments and free financial counseling; and Stockman Bank, which is offering to defer loan payments, restructure debts and help affected individuals on a case-by-case basis.
Huckleberry Smarties to Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen for her School Safety Accountability Act, which would criminalize sexual relationships between teachers and students in Montana’s K-12 public schools. Although most school districts have policies barring such relationships, the new law would close a loophole that can allow teachers to have sex with students who have reached the legal age of consent, which is 16. Arntzen’s proposal also would make it easier to revoke a teaching license for engaging in sexual activity with a minor or student and make it a misdemeanor offense for certain school employees to help an offending teacher transfer to a new job.
Tearful chokecherries to the newly released report that shows the same number of children died even after Montana’s Child and Family Services Division was alerted to their cases as in the previous report. The 2018 commission reviewed 12 child fatalities that had occurred with a year of a report being filed with the state — the same number as in 2017. In recent years, Montana has seen a steep increase in children in state custody, with almost 4,000 children in foster care at last count. While the 2017 Montana Department of Justice review offered a number of promising recommendations, so far, there has been little meaningful change in the tragic baseline numbers.
Half a huckleberry to the news that Missoula will soon gain an additional district court judge to help the four current judges lighten their growing load. A state study actually determined that the Missoula County district, which also covers Mineral County, needs two additional judges; alas, the 2017 Legislature provided just one. In this legislative session, the Montana Senate is tasked with confirming the governor’s appointment to the position. This week, the Judicial Nomination Commission held public interviews with candidates and whittled its list of recommendations down to just five names to forward to Gov. Steve Bullock for consideration.