New Public Safety Measures Take Effect October 1

By Beacon Staff

Several new public safety laws will take effect in Montana beginning Oct. 1, including a set standard for DUI cases involving marijuana and the designation of bath salts as illegal.

“The Montana Department of Justice found common sense solutions for taking on DUI offenders, protecting our most vulnerable citizens, and improving law enforcement infrastructure in Montana,” Attorney General Tim Fox said in a statement. “The level of support our initiatives had on both sides of the aisle indicated that our ideas were not partisan issues, but rather, Montana issues.”

Here is a breakdown from Fox’s office of the laws taking effect:

Consumer protection for the elderly and developmentally disabled
HB 287 imposes stiffer consumer protection penalties for individuals or scammers who target the elderly or mentally disabled.

Establishing a THC impairment level for DUI purposes
HB 168 establishes a 5 ng/mL limit for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in DUI cases for illegal users of marijuana. Currently this standard is in place for medical marijuana cardholders. This law will make Montana’s highways safer by establishing a standard of THC impairment that is universal for all drivers. THC is the physiologically active component in marijuana. Previously, only medical marijuana cardholders had to abide by a set limit of 5 ng/ml of THC in their blood. There was no standard for drivers using marijuana illegally.

Requiring out-of-state sex offenders to provide DNA sample when they move to Montana
SB 213 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 when it comes to convicted sex offenders – felons who often pose a continued risk to society. Previously, when a sexual or violent offender from another state was released from supervision, that offender was able to move to Montana and was required to register here as a sexual or violent offender. However, that offender did not have to provide a DNA sample to be entered into the Montana state DNA database.

Assigning tier levels to undesignated sex offenders
HB 335 allows 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. Since an offender’s tier level determines the frequency s/he must report to authorities, this is an important step toward protecting Montanans from dangerous offenders by giving Montana’s prosecutors and law enforcement personnel the tools they need to keep our communities safe.

Criminalizing new designer drugs
HB 140 bans synthetic drugs that mimic dangerous, illegal drugs, but that were not designated as unlawful in state law previously. Now, the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession of designer drugs, including those designer drugs labeled as “bath salts” or “Spice,” is illegal in Montana.

Requiring DPHHS to disclose all instances of child abuse to law enforcement
HB 74 requires disclosure of child abuse to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to law enforcement in all cases. The new law addresses cross-reporting of child abuse and neglect cases, which would allow information to be disseminated quickly between social services and law enforcement in cases of suspicious child deaths, suspected child sexual assaults, and other circumstances.

Increasing penalties for infant assault
SB 198 increases the maximum penalty to 20 years when someone assaults a child aged 36 months or younger. If the abuse caused serious bodily injury, the penalty would rise to 40 years in prison.

Several other bills passed through the efforts of the Montana Department of Justice, including HB 137, which clarifies application of parole eligibility for juvenile offenders, and SB 258, which named the Justice Building on the State Capitol complex after the late Joe Mazurek. HB 355, which cracked down on repeat DUI offenders, became law earlier this year.

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