Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The offices of U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have announced that a bill that passed a Senate committee last week includes more than $5 million for Montana law enforcement projects and also includes a restored level of funding for the program that pays for Montana’s drug task forces. “Our law enforcement officials work hard every day to protect Montanans and keep our kids safe,” Baucus said in a press release. “Jon and I worked together to secure funding that will provide law enforcement officials the resources they need to do their jobs effective and efficiently and to help stamp out drug use in our state.” Tester said he and Baucus will continue to push for the passage of the 2009 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill once it hits the floor of the Senate. “This is funding that will protect Montana families and keep our communities safe, and it just cleared another hurdle,” he said. The office of Montana’s lone U.S. Representative, Denny Rehberg, said he has included a provision in the House version of the bill to provide $1 million for the Montana Meth Project, as does the Senate version, and that it looks like a significant boost for the Justice Assistance Grant program used by the state drug task forces will also be included. The task forces took a severe hit when the grant program was cut from $520 million in fiscal year 2007 to $170.4 million in fiscal year 2008. The JAG grants have supplied the funding for the operation of Montana’s drug task forces, paying the salaries of the agents in the task forces. The task forces have had a major impact on drug trafficking in the state, officials have said. A report released last year by the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force, based in Havre, shows the impact it has had in its region, including six counties and the Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations. For the first half of its fiscal year, the task force seized nearly 24 pounds of marijuana, almost 59 grams of cocaine, more than $30,000 in cash and 12 firearms. It opened more than 50 new cases, identified 50 new suspects and made 29 arrests in the period. Mark Thatcher, the state coordinator of JAG funds, said the task forces, some of which have been in operation for 20 years or more, have had a major impact on drug manufacture and trafficking. In 2001, he said, the task forces busted about 120 methamphetamine laboratories, and by 2006 that had dropped to 10 labs. Thatcher said Tuesday that the cut in Montana’s funding was even deeper than the overall cut in JAG funds. Montana’s funding was cut by about 78 percent versus about 67 percent on the national level. Montana’s total funding went from $1.52 million in 2007 to less than $367,000 this year. Thatcher said the state Board of Crime Control has requested proposals from the task force for their funding for the next year. “We’re just waiting to receive applications back from the drug task forces,” he said. Contact with the local Tri-Agency drug task force was not available for today's publication. Thatcher said that unless the task forces can find alternate funding, it will likely result in reduced operations for the next year. “Most likely that’s what they’ll have to do,” he said. “It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. “Whether they will be able to sustain themselves, it is all up to local support,” Thatcher said. Tester and Baucus have said they will continue to try to find funding for the task forces. A supplemental appropriations bill passed by the Senate last month included $490 million to restore the JAG funds, but that money was stripped in the House, a representative of Baucus said. Tester held a summit in Great Falls in April to discuss the cuts in JAG funding and its impact on the task forces, and vowed to restore the money. Rehberg, Tester and Baucus have included funding for several Montana projects in the respective bills, including the Montana Meth Project, a highly praised advertising program designed to steer Montana youths away from methamphetamine. Begun in 2005, the Montana Meth Project has become the largest advertiser in Montana, Rehberg said in a press release. The project targets youths ages 12-17 with advertising illustrating the dangers of use of methamphetamine. The funds in the appropriations bill would be used for TV, radio, print and Web site development for the Montana Meth Project. “Montana Meth has a game plan that works,” Rehberg said. “That’s why their program is now being implemented across the U.S. I’m proud to continue to put my full support behind them.” The $5.19 million for Montana projects in the Senate bill that passed committee last Thursday also includes $300,000 for the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation tribal courts to help with staffing and technology shortfalls and $250,000 for the Chippewa Cree Juvenile Detention Center Renovation Project on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. The bill also includes $10 million for research-based anti-drug campaigns, which will be awarded to programs like the Montana Meth Project.