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Law Enforcement

Gianforte Signs Fentanyl, Law Enforcement Bills During Kalispell Visit

The governor — joined by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke and State Rep. Courtenay Sprunger — criticized federal border policy, commended local law enforcement during a Friday morning bill signing ceremony

By Denali Sagner
Gov. Greg Gianforte signs two of Rep. Courtenay Sprunger’s bills into law at the Old Courthouse in Kalispell on June 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Gov. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke on Friday morning joined Flathead County law enforcement and legislators to celebrate the governor’s signing of two public safety bills passed by the Montana Legislature. The bills signed by the governor on Friday, both of which were introduced by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, will create mandatory minimum sentences for the possession and distribution of fentanyl and will expand the abilities of volunteer law enforcement officers to carry non-lethal weapons.

“To reach our full potential as a state, Montana families have to know they’re safe in their homes,” Gianforte said, addressing local officials, law enforcement officers and Flathead Valley residents at the Flathead County Commissioners’ Chambers.

Gianforte praised Sprunger, a freshman lawmaker in the Montana House of Representatives, for her work bringing public safety bills to Helena and painted a dire picture of what he described as a “porous” southern U.S. border where fentanyl is “flooding in.”

Sprunger’s House Bill 791, one of the two bills signed by the governor, will create a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, or a minimum $50,000 fine, for those convicted of trafficking fentanyl in the state of Montana.

“The situation has never been more dire,” the governor said, describing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention centers as “like being in the international terminal at [John F. Kennedy International Airport].”

State Rep. Courtenay Sprunger speaks at the Old Courthouse in Kalispell where Governor Greg Gianforte signed two of her bills into law on June 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Zinke also criticized the Biden administration’s handling of fentanyl and immigration policy at the southern border.

“Fentanyl used to be a border state issue. Every state is now a border state,” Zinke said. “Our immigration policy — we don’t have one. We don’t have a border.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, and over 150 people each day die from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

“If you traffic fentanyl in Montana, we will find you and we will put you behind bars,” Gianforte said.

Both Gianforte and Zinke cited fentanyl as a leading cause of death among American adults, a statistic that has been widely shared by lawmakers in relation to rising fentanyl deaths in the United States. Per data from the CDC and U.S. experts, heart disease and cancer far surpass fentanyl and synthetic opioids as the leading cause of death among American adults.

The governor also signed House Bill 256, which allows auxiliary, or volunteer, law enforcement officers to carry non-lethal weapons. Previously, the volunteers were barred from carrying weapons. The bill was introduced by Sprunger at the request of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, which uses its sheriff’s “posse,” or volunteer force, to provide security at large events, assist at crime scenes and aid in search and rescue missions.

Sprunger called the bills a “slam dunk” for public safety in Montana.

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