Governor responds to Lake County law enforcement dispute

In a letter to Lake County commissioners last week, Gov. Greg Gianforte outlined what he said was “the only potential tool available to me” regarding a law enforcement dispute with Lake County.

The dispute pertains to federal Public Law 280, which was enacted in 1953 and grants certain states criminal jurisdiction over some Indian reservations.

Some states — Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon and Wisconsin — were mandated to adopt Public Law 280. Other states, like Montana, were given the option to do so.

Of the 12 tribes in Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are the only group to opt in to Public Law 280, which means that on the Flathead Reservation, felonies committed by tribal members are handled by local county law enforcement — not the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs or FBI. And since 1990, CSKT has been prosecuting misdemeanor crimes committed by tribal members on the reservation — helping shoulder the burden of jurisdictional responsibility.

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But Lake County has claimed for years that it has not been adequately reimbursed by the state for assuming this job. And county commissioners say the law is burdensome to taxpayers.

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