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Senator Jeff Welborn’s Weekly Report

HELENA:

In recent months I’ve had conversations with some of our local School Administrators

and a couple of elected board members regarding truancy in our public schools. Here’s

what has been proposed so far to address the issue;


SB 129 Introduced by Senator Russ Tempel, a Republican from Chester, seeks to help

address the problem. This bill was debated this past Friday, and will be up for a final

vote Today at 1:00 in order to clear the Senate.



I will be supporting the measure as it hopefully keeps moving through the process.


Some background on this proposal, and the need for change is because most of our

students come to school at the age

of 5 and/or 6, and are also educated through their 18th or 19th

birthday. Because the current attendance law states that parents are only held

accountable for students from the age of 7 to 16, schools are unable to hold the

parents accountable when the child is truant at the ages of 5, 6, 17,

18, or 19, regardless of public, private, or homeschooled, students.



I want to be crystal clear that this proposed change in this law has nothing to do with

children missing school for doctor appointments, family trips, or other

situations in which parents want to pull their children out of school

here or there. Most , if not all schools across the state accept doctor's

notes and parent phone calls as an excused absence. The change in the

law is directly pinpointing the parents of those kids who are being blatantly truant.


As was discussed during debate on the Senator Floor on Friday, if a parent

wants to pull a child at the age of 6, they can still do so. The

student doesn’t have to legally be in school until the age of 7, this proposal simply seeks

to change the age to match the age range that students are actually enrolled.



Unfortunately, we have students who are missing 20 plus unexcused days of

school. I recently spoke with an administrator from another part of Montana, who just

filed paperwork with the county attorney for educational

neglect on a seven-year-old who has missed 63 out of the first 90 days of school this

year. This same student missed over 70 days last year, but was only 6 at the time, so

nothing could be done about it.


In closing, I feel that no administrators are going after the parents where the kids are

missing days here and there. For most schools, as long as there

is communication, students are not truant.


The change in this law simply states that a parent or guardian of any student will now be

held accountable upon enrollment. This change would include all students,

not just the students from ages 7-16.


Shifting gears, this past week a group of us sat down with stakeholders from the hunting

and angling community, outfitters, landowners, and NGO’s to discuss a package of bills,

that were unveiled at the Elk Camp Event on the front steps of the Capitol, where I had

the chance to join Governor Gianforte at the podium, and speak to the group, clad in

everything from camo and blaze orange, to cowboy hats and coveralls.



The proposals unveiled at the event include an expansion of the payment cap for

landowners participating in Block Management, which is cruising through the

Legislature; stricter penalties for members of the public who trespass and for

landowners who block legal hunter access; and tweaks to landowner preference

licenses and nonresident antler-less deer tags. The most advanced of those proposals

is the expansion of Block Management, which would double the current annual payment

cap available to landowners who open their properties to public hunters from $25,000 to

$50,000.


The coalition has called for lawmakers to use $200 million of the state’s billion-dollar

budget surplus to create a Montana Legacy Trust, a fund to support the restoration and

improvement of public and private lands with an eye toward habitat preservation and

stewardship. I look at this it as a tremendous opportunity, that is likely to get a hearing

soon. Interest earned off the initial investment could fund wildlife migration corridor

conservation, weed abatement and stream restoration projects that would benefit

landowners, outfitters, sportsmen and the businesses they support.



In closing, we continue to work on the budget, and approve spending levels in State

Government, so far in the Sub committee that I sit on, we have had discussions with

Departments of Livestock, Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, Agriculture, and

Transportation ,and will be sitting down this coming week with Fish Wildlife and Parks. I

will keep you posted as we move forward setting these budgets, as there are many vital

programs within these agencies that affect all of us in Southwest Montana.

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