By Attorney General Tim Fox
Looking east from Montana toward Washington, DC, the view can be grim at times. Congress and the president are too often bogged down in rancorous bickering while solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges take a back seat to politics. But when it comes to protecting public safety, the 2013 Legislative Session showed we do things better here in Montana.
When I took office as your Attorney General in January, I supported and introduced legislation addressing issues such as child abuse prevention, repeat DUI offenders, consumer protection, and public safety. Working with members of both parties, my office succeeded in passing the entire Department of Justice agenda and in helping the legislative efforts of other public safety officials like county attorneys, sheriffs & police officers, and advocates for children.
To make our streets and highways safer, we passed two important DUI bills. HB 355 (Rep. Christy Clark, R-Choteau) allows a judge to go back further in a repeat DUI offender’s record to deliver stiffer penalties and get them into successful treatment programs. Because marijuana is a growing problem in terms of traffic accidents and roadway deaths, we advanced HB 168 (Rep. Doc Moore, R-Missoula), which established a THC impairment standard for all drivers.
We also introduced bills aimed at protecting kids from sex offenders. SB 213 (Senator Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula) requires offenders who move into Montana to provide a DNA sample to our state crime lab. Montana was one of only four states in the country lacking such a requirement, but we closed the loophole. HB 335 (Rep. Jenny Eck, D-Helena) will allow a district judge to designate a tier level to sex offenders who lack one. The majority of sex offenders in Montana do not have a tier level because they predate the tier system, did not receive one at sentencing, or come from a state with a different tier system.
In response the growing threat posed by new drugs such as “bath salts” and “spice,” we brought forward HB 140 (Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup). These new drugs mimic dangerous, illegal drugs, but were not designated as unlawful in state law. Now any dangerous drug compound is illegal in Montana.
Because my office is the state’s top consumer protection watchdog, I also introduced HB 287 (Rep. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan). The new law imposes stiffer penalties on scammers who target the elderly or mentally disabled. We must do more to protect our most vulnerable citizens from con artists trying to rip them off.
As a parent and grandparent, few things are more heart wrenching to me than instances of child abuse and neglect. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, few crimes are more intolerable. That’s why I worked with Montana’s county prosecutors to advance several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting our children from abuse and neglect.
With economic and population growth comes more law enforcement needs, which is why we fought hard for more resources for areas impacted by the Bakken oil boom. More Highway Patrol troopers and an increased criminal investigation presence will help improve public safety in an area where resources are stretched dangerously thin.
For 87 days, we worked with legislators in both parties to advance measures that will improve public safety in Montana. It took a lot of people working together to enact my legislative agenda. When you see your local legislator, county attorney, or law enforcement official in your community this summer, please be sure to thank them for their tireless work in keeping Montanans safe.
While the legislative work may be done for now, my office’s work is just beginning. I and the dedicated public servants at the Montana Department of Justice will build on our success in the 2013 Legislative Session and move forward with initiatives to protect Montana’s most vulnerable citizens, stand up for Montana against federal overreach, and, because prosperous communities are safer communities, help improve Montana’s economy.
Tim Fox is the 24th Attorney General of Montana. Originally from Hardin, he came to the Department of Justice with more than 25 years of experience in public and private law practice. For more information, visit www.doj.mt.gov.