Montana ICWA bill clears Senate after heated discussion (copy)

A bill that would codify parts of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law passed the Senate on Friday after a contentious discussion on the floor.

Thirty-eight senators voted in support of the bill in the second reading, and 12 were opposed. In the third reading, which also happened Friday, 33 people voted in support and the same 12 senators remained opposed. Because the bill passed the House in a different form, it must first be reconciled before heading to the governor’s desk.

Known as ICWA, the Indian Child Welfare Act determines how Native children are put in foster or adoptive homes, prioritizing family and tribal placements. The federal law was enacted in 1978 in response to decades of state child welfare and private adoption agencies separating Native children from their families. 

House Bill 317, which has received strong public support in its committee hearings, comes as the federal ICWA is under threat. The federal Supreme Court in July will issue a ruling on a case that challenges ICWA’s constitutionality. At least 10 other states have codified ICWA into state law, including, most recently, Wyoming. Every tribe in Montana also passed a resolution that supports codifying ICWA into state law.

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