The 2017 Montana Legislative Session is flying by. To begin with, we would like to take this opportunity thank the 318 people who have helped in sending approximately 4800 emails into legislators and members of the Gov.’s office in support of disability issues. If you are looking for ways to get involved, you can still join our action alert system by clicking the “Become an Advocate” on our website at www.summitilc.org.
Although the legislative session will be coming to a close in the near future, we still have much work left to do. Montanans with disabilities and older adults are currently stuck in the middle of a political battle between the Legislature and the Governor’s office. More specifically, the Legislature and the Governor’s office are currently at odds with how to fund services in the Senior and Long-Term Care Division (SLTC) within the Department of Public Health And Human Services that help individuals with disabilities and older adults perform the most basic of life’s tasks. At the beginning of the session, the legislature adopted a $42 million cut to the SLTC budget. Since then, the legislature approved federal spending authority to reinstate the cut that had been authorized, however, they did not appropriate the state funds that would be necessary for matching that federal spending authority. Instead, they are challenging the Governor’s office to reinstate $10 million that was taken out of DPHHS and transferred to the Department of Transportation. Services that are at risk of being slashed include the elimination of the Personal Assistance Services program, the elimination of Hospice, a 49% reduction of the Big Sky Waiver program, waiver slot reductions, between a 34% and a 45% reduction of the Community First Choice program, and others.
In other words, while the Legislature and the Governor’s office play politics, the lives of older adults and individuals with disabilities who rely on these services hang in the balance. Simply put, older adults and individuals with disabilities are being used as a political football with neither side, thus far, willing to do what is right.
In addition to the budget, there are several other pieces of legislation that Montana’s Centers for Independent Living have been following. They include:
HB 70: this bill sets up a committee to look at and update Montana’s guardianship laws as well as provides grants for voluntary guardianship training in order to better teach individuals how to provide guardianship services.
HB 294: this bill would appropriate $100,000 to be used as matching funds for municipalities and school districts to supplement local and private funds for incorporating accessibility features in new or existing playgrounds.
HB 334: this bill would require DPHHS
to spend funds that are appropriated for Medicaid programs on only Medicaid programs and prohibit the Department from transferring these funds for other purposes.
SB 208: this bill would require DPHHS to spend funds that are appropriated for Medicaid Waiver services on only Medicaid Waiver services and prohibit the Department from transferring these funds for other purposes.
SB 271: this bill would extend the closure of the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder by two additional years without keeping the facility open indefinitely.
SB 305: this bill would allow County election administrator’s the opportunity to conduct the upcoming special election to fill Montana’s lone House of Representatives seat via a mail election rather than a costly poll election.
The above bills are ones that Montana’s Centers for Independent Living fully support and that are still making their way through the legislative process.
The following bills are bills that are still making their way to the legislative process but that Montana’s Centers for Independent Living oppose:
HB 3: this bill directs the Governor’s office to cut at least $10 million from the current funding cycle, including $5 million from DPHHS.
HB 17: while we support a portion of this bill that provides additional waiver slots for the Big Sky Waiver program, we oppose the portion of this bill that provides a provider rate increase for only one service under the waiver program and believe that any provider rate increase should encompass all services available under the waiver program, not just assisted living services.
HB 357: this bill restricts the type of identification that an eligible voter may be able to use while registering to vote or while voting.
HB 364: this bill would implement a fine for individuals who fraudulently represent a dog they are trying to take into a business as a service dog when it is not a service dog. Montana’s Centers for Independent Living than opposed to this bill due to their not being a certification process by which service dogs may be certified. Due to the lack of a certification process, it would be virtually impossible for anyone to determine whether or not a dog that someone claims is a service dog is actually not a service dog.
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