First-time drug offenders in Montana are currently not given the option to enter residential treatment facilities in the state. House Bill 278 would give judges the option to defer these first-time offenders to a live-in treatment facility, or rehab center, rather than giving them probation.
"If we wait multiple times down the road that they’re failing, before, ‘Ok, now we’re going to give you meaningful treatment,’ they’re just that much further down that road," says Rep. Matt Regier, the sponsor of the bill.
Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Matt Kuntz, supported the bill at its first hearing on January 19, recorded and archived on the legislature’s website.
"It gives the judge a realistic chance that this person is not going to be back in my courtroom in three months,” Kuntz says.
The House passed the bill — sending it to the Senate for consideration — on a vote of 99 to one. The Senate Judiciary Committee hears the bill Friday.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.