Several bills brought as tweaks to major criminal justice reforms that were passed in 2017 survived a key deadline this week and remain in play halfway through the legislative session.

Saturday marks the date for policy bills to clear their house of origin. Revenue bills have a later deadline.

Law enforcement, prosecutors and even retailers have geared up this year to persuade lawmakers to make changes to major legislation enacted during the 2017 Legislature aimed at modernizing Montana's criminal justice system and saving the state money on its prison and public defender costs.

Reform critics say some measures were passed without enough public debate, such as the reduction of the mandatory minimum in child sex abuse cases, which prosecutors said was tacked on late and without victim input. 

Tweaks to the 2017 reform package include:

SB 155, which restores the mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison with no parole or suspension for a rape, incest or sexual abuse of children involving victims age 12 or younger. The bill passed out of the Senate 32-18.

SB 65, which overhauls the state’s DUI laws and boosts penalties against repeat drunken drivers. It also includes a fix to a change enacted in 2017 that actually results in lesser penalties for a fifth DUI than for a fourth. The revenue bill has until April 1 for Senate approval.

• HB 421, which allows police to make an arrest on a first-offense disorderly conduct call. Currently, they can only issue a notice to appear. The bill also creates a new misdemeanor crime of using an emergency exit to shoplift, which retailers say is a tool they need to crack down on an increase in high-dollar shoplifting they attribute to the 2017 reforms. The revenue bill has until April 1 for House approval.

HB 463, which would give prosecutors a chance to object to a defendant’s petition for release from supervision. Passed out of the Senate 95-1.

In addition to those bills aimed directly at changing the 2017 reforms, a handful of other criminal justice-related bills remain in play:

SB 114, which doubles the maximum penalty for felony stalking from five to 10 years in prison and broadens the language of the stalking laws to make it easier for prosecutors to win cases. An amendment keeps in place the existing five-year maximum for certain cases, including when force or a weapon was not used. Passed out of Senate 39-11.

SB 147, which criminalizes paying for non-intercourse sexual contact and targets pimps with the state’s prostitution laws. Advocates say the laws currently target only johns, and fail to punish those behind the scenes in control of sex trafficking victims. Passed out of Senate 49-1.

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• HJ 5, which requests an interim study of deferred prosecution and pretrial diversion programs.

• HB 590, which allows a victim under age 16 of a sexual offense to refuse pretrial interviews by defendants, with exceptions allowed at a judge’s discretion. Passed out of House 97-2.

Those corrections or justice-related bills that have died include:

• SB 22, which sought to increase the victim witness surcharge for those convicted of a crime from $50 to $100. A committee amendment knocked that down to $75 before lawmakers tabled the bill.

• SB 95, which sought additional gun restrictions against the subject of a temporary restraining order and sought to ban firearm possession by anyone convicted of domestic violence.

Lawmakers begin a three-day break Monday, resuming Thursday.

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.