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State Bill Would Allow Police To Test For Marijuana In Saliva


A bill that would give police officers the ability to use a device that can detect marijuana in saliva has passed both the Senate and the House and will now hit the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, sponsored Senate Bill 13, which passed the Senate unanimously on Jan. 24, and then passed the House 96-2 on March 21.

“Marijuana leaves a residual within the mouth. Currently it’s not measured for quantity, it’s measured for the presence or lack thereof. This is a valuable tool in adding an additional – we’ll call it a brick in the wall of probable cause for an officer,” Rep. Neil Duram, R-Eureka, said when presenting the bill to the House.

The bill adds to an existing state law that allows for testing to detect traces of alcohol, and adds additional measures that would permit testing individuals for active drugs through oral fluid or blood.

“Ideally the officer would make a statement that, ‘Hey I smell marijuana on your person.’ We’ll just presume that this is the one person that might not be completely honest with the officer, and say, ‘No I haven’t been smoking any marijuana.’ This test would allow them to take a sample of the oral fluid, saliva, within the person’s mouth and it would just be a litmus test: yes or no,” Duram said.

Duram said this bill and new testing has nothing to do with a person’s actual intoxication level from marijuana. He said it would simply just add a baseline of whether the drug was present or not, and that knowledge would give officers probable cause to have a blood test done to test for intoxication level.

Duram said future technology may allow for the expansion of these tests.

Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston said the bill is not a new idea, but is actually meant to correct drafting errors in previous legislation.

“This had to do with what we’re doing with recreational marijuana and DUI laws, and how those fit together. So this does not represent a change in what has already happened,” Bishop said.

Financial Literacy

A bill that would set up definitions of financial literacy and how those subjects are taught in public schools will now be considered by the Senate after passing the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, is sponsoring House Bill 535, which would add definitions to Montana law outlining financial literacy and connected subjects such as financial knowledge and skills.

“As the youngest member of the Legislature and seeing first hand young adults my age who are graduating high school and graduating college who don’t even know what credit scores are is deeply concerning to me,” Mitchell said. “I think that anything we can do as a Legislature to acknowledge the necessity of financial literacy education in our Montana education system is worth doing.”

HB 535 has 18 definitions that detail different forms of financial knowledge and skills such as “learning how investing can create longterm wealth,” and “understanding the psychology behind money decisions, including the basics of behavioral economics.”

The bill was originally tabled in the House Education Committee on a 9-4 vote, but was later revived and was voted through committee 9-4 on a party-line vote. The bill passed the House 66-32 on March 3 and was then sent to the Senate for debate.

Elsie Arntzen, superintendent of public instruction in Montana, was one of two supporters at the bill’s Senate hearing and said adding financial literacy into subjects already in existing graduation requirements would only be beneficial to the state and its youth.

“Financial literacy very flexibly can be offered in our public school systems, incorporated within the original 20 requirements,” Arntzen said.

She said following the pandemic the Board of Public Education created a task force to determine what a quality school looks like and found that financial literacy needs to be implemented. She said following the board’s work, a steering committee made up of teachers was created that was focused on evaluating what is already being done on financial literacy in schools.

“Whether it’s in an economics class that is housed under our social studies standards, whether it’s in a math class, whether it’s in a FCCLA class which has to do with consumer science. So, we recognize that what has come up then, teachers made the recommendations that are not limited to the list,” Arntzen said.

Arntzen said the next graduating class would need to meet the new requirements and that would enhance the students’ education.

There was no opposition testimony at the hearing.

The committee took no immediate action on HB 535.

Main State Budget Bill

The bill that outlines Montana’s state budget for the next two years passed the House of Representatives on a nearly party-line vote of 67-31 last Thursday, with the chair of the main appropriations committee calling it a “good balance.” But, House Bill 2 still has quite a few hurdles to clear before it near the Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk.

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, is sponsoring House Bill 2 which holds every aspect of the state’s spending.

“We had some great discussion today and I respect everyone’s thoughts and perspective, so where do we find ourselves? Some think it’s too small and some think the budget might be too big,” said Jones, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “As it’s proposed it represents a good balance between the taxpayers pocket book and the needs and critical services of Montana.”

The Montana Legislature’s only constitutional requirement is to pass a balanced budget for the next two years. This session, the bill is more than 50 pages long and includes around $13.4 billion of appropriated money for agencies and programs across the state.

The budget was heavily debated in the House Appropriations Committee the week following the Legislature’s mid-session break. The bill is broken up into six sections that cover different areas of state government, like General Funding (Section A) or Public Health and Human Services (Section B).

Jones said the bill still has some areas that need to be worked on, but said he trusts the Senate to be able to clean them up before pushing the budget to the governor’s desk.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, voted against the budget proposal after several amendments from the Democratic party were shut down.

“You heard that there are some really good things about this budget, there’s some bi-partisan compromises that both sides are proud of, but what I need to say is that where this budget fails, it fails in a way that’s stunning to me based on what we know families, businesses and communities are facing day in and day out,” Abbott said during a discussion following a breakdown of the budget.

Abbott said not having a direct investment in affordable housing throughout the budget is a catastrophic mistake and that’s an aspect that needs to be cleaned up in the Senate.

Rep. Marilyn Marler, D-Missoula, echoed what Abbott said about the failures of the budget, but also raised concerns over the lack of discussion on the budget during the floor session.

“You know what else falls short is the level of conversation in this body today. I saw people on our side of the aisle stand up and advocate for our values and for people who need our help where there is money available and I got a big nothing burger,” Marler said. “I think that the people who voted to send us here, and the people who pay their taxes, deserve to hear arguments for why we’re making these decisions.”

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