By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA - In the wake of reports of an increase in child abuse and neglect cases, lawmakers in Helena are considering a bill that would create a commission to review trends and patterns to share with policymakers. House Bill 303 also aims to educate the public and service providers about child abuse and neglect.

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, is sponsor of the bill and said the issue matters to her most because of her former position as director for Head Start in Billings.

Kelker shared a story about a girl in the program, using the name Mary as a pseudonym.

“In a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, Mary shared that she liked to eat sand because it made her sick, and if she ate enough she would die,” Kelker said.

After investigating, the organization found out that Mary was suffering from extreme abuse and neglect, Kelker said.

Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies representative Sarah Corbally said House Bill 303 echoes federal efforts to end these cases.

“That it needs to be a proactive approach to prevent them, not this reactive approach to find new and greater punishments for these types of cases,” Corbally said.

The commission would be made up of 17 appointed positions; nine would be appointed by the governor and the rest of would come from the attorney general.

“Altogether we’re talking about a fairly large commission, but the point is to be multidisciplinary with a lot of different viewpoints being represented,” Kelker said.

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.