BY MICHAEL NOYES
HELENA – More than two dozen people testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday morning in favor of a bill that states the local sheriff must “authorize federal employee arrest search or seizure.”
Republican Sen. Greg Hinkle, of Thompson Falls, sponsored Senate Bill 114 because of what he called a “growing concern” about “a government which looks the other way while its agents abuse the power of their offices.”
In testimony, supporters cited examples like Waco, Ruby Ridge, and other incidents where government agents were criticized for their handling of law enforcement issues. About six people testified in opposition to the bill saying it was unnecessary and encroached on established federal jurisdiction.
Both sides featured a county sheriff in testimony.
Tom Rummel, sheriff of Sanders County, said the bill would provide a “safeguard.”
“I feel this bill will give me…the ability to monitor and control any federal involvement in my county,” Rummel said.
Jim Cashell, Gallatin County Sheriff, said he appreciated the confidence residents voiced in the county sheriffs. However, he said a sheriff that interferes with a federal officer in the performance of his duty would likely be in violation of federal law.
“We know how to deal with the federal government,” Cashell said. “It’s counterproductive.”
The bill appeared to face some harsh scrutiny from members of the committee.
Republican Sen. Jim Shockley, of Victor, said he sympathized with many of the points made by supporters but believes the issue was settled when the South surrendered to the North at the close of the Civil War.
“That seems to say…the federal law is supreme over the state law, whether we like it or not,” Shockley said.
Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association and a leading supporter of the bill, disagreed.
“It’s my opinion that did not establish any legal precedent whatsoever,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Shannon Augare, of Browning, said he felt like federal law enforcement officials had been “bashed” at the hearing.
“Why would we seem to target our federal officers when they’re here upholding our Constitution?” Augare said. “These are fellow Montanans and people who serve…honorably.”