Elinor Smith

HELENA -- A bill requiring special training for public defenders who represent children in abuse and neglect cases passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday on a vote of 98-to-1.

Under the bill, public defenders would be required to get any training necessary to learn how to talk to the children and help them navigate these cases – cases that the bill’s supporters say can ultimately determine a child’s future.

House Bill 555 is sponsored by Republican Representative Jennifer Carlson. She said House Bill 555 goes hand-in-hand with another bill passed through the House that would require all kids who have to go to court get a public defender. 

“These attorneys need to be qualified in, in areas of child welfare so that they can provide the best representation for children for the best outcomes,” Carlson said at the bill’s initial hearing.  

Beth Brenneman represented the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and spoke as a proponent of the bill during the initial hearing on Feb. 22.  

“It's the essential piece that has been missing to ensure that children really get a fair shot in the system, so we would support this bill. These particular requirements are very good, and they speak to the fact that most attorneys really aren't well trained to represent children,” Brenneman said. “We just don't learn that in law school and it's different, and especially when they're in very difficult situations and traumatized, it is difficult to figure out how to communicate with them. So the training to ensure that people know how to do that is very important.”