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Bachmeier talks about 2019 legislative session

 

April 29, 2019



Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, said Friday that a big win for Montana this year was that the Legislature ultimately succeeded in getting the Medicaid expansion bill across the finish line to protect more than 96,000 Montanans.

“That being said, Medicaid expansion came with a great deal compromise between the Democrats and the moderate Republicans, and although I am proud of the work we did to come up with a bipartisan solution, it definitely was a tough compromise on some components of Medicaid,” he said, “But, ultimately, we did what Montanans wanted us to do, work together, and we got it through.”

Bachmeier spoke in Havre Friday, the day after the session ended.

One of the things that had to be compromised, Bachmeier said, was putting a work requirement in place. When it came to Medicaid, he said, the Legislature had a robust program previously in place, which has seen 70 percent of the people in the program working and the majority of the other 30 percent acting as caretakers or people who have severe disabilities who can’t work. From his understanding of a few studies regarding the program, less than 2 percent of people enrolled have been found to abuse it.

“I don’t think that anyone is opposed to the idea that people should have skin in the game when it comes Medicaid,” he said. “But what we know is that when we require additional paperwork for the Medicaid program that means more government bureaucracy.”

The paperwork required in the work requirement will require the state to hire more people to process the paperwork and more people to help with paperwork, making the program more expensive, Bachmeier said.

More paperwork also discourages people from applying for health care, he added.

“Ultimately, this program is going to cost more money,” he said. “It’s going to hire more government employees and less people are going to have health care.”

He added that in the previous Medicaid program, incentives were put in place to get people back to work, providing job training programs. With people discouraged by over-complicated paperwork they will not apply for health care and will lose the opportunity to apply to the job training programs they could have had access to.

“I feel like some of these compromises have led to more spending than is necessary and will ultimately lead to more people losing their health care,” Bachmeier said. “But with that being said, this is politics. We had to compromise with the majority party, that’s what the majority party wanted, and we stand by our efforts.”

Infrastructure package

Bachmeier said that the next big accomplishment was passing an infrastructure package. Montana has got crumbling infrastructure, he said, such as bridges, overcrowded school buildings and aging water systems.

“And thats been a top priority since Day 1 to get those fixed,” he said.

The package included HB 652, he said, which was the first infrastructure bonding bill to pass in nearly 15 years. He added that it was a huge accomplishment.

“It didn’t include as many projects as I necessarily would have liked to see, I’m sure that the other side feels that maybe it had more projects than they would liked to see, but that’s what comes with good bipartisan work,” he said.

Also included in the package were bills with cash infrastructure projects, such as water projects and renewable resource grants. Water projects in Chinook and North Havre were included.

The package also included authority for improvements at Montana State University Northern, meaining the campus has the authority to raise funds for projects but the money is not coming from state budget.

Hanna’s Act

The Legislature also passed Hanna’s Act, he said. That bill was the most vital piece of a missing persons package requiring the Montana Department of Justice to employ a missing person specialist to assist law enforcement agencies in pursuing missing person cases, particularly along reservations. The bill was named after Hanna Harris of Lame Deer, who was found murdered in 2013, which started a massive organizing effort calling for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women across the state.

Bachmeier said that the other bills part of package were to eliminate delays and require law enforcement agencies in state to submit missing persons immediately if someone is reported missing and requiring the Montana Office of Public Instruction to create and maintain a electronic directory with a photograph repository of students in case if a child goes missing.

“With this combination of bills, I think that it will provide a critical toolbox of resources for our law enforcement and OPI to work together to help investigate these cases of murdered and missing indigenous people, as well as for the people in Montana,” he said.

Extending statute of limitation on child sex abuse crimes

The Legislature also passed a bill reforming the statute of limitation for child sex abuse crimes, Bachmeier said. HB 640 passed out after third reading at 96-0 vote.

“From the very first day of the session, we made it clear as a caucus that it was one of our top priorities,” he said. “And we’re proud that we got unanimous support on third reading to get that through. I think that it sends a clear message that Montana is committed to protecting its most vulnerable people.”

Preschool and education

In education this year, Bachmeier said, they were able to make some accomplishments, but the Legislature still has a lot of work to do going back into the next session, he said.

General education funding has inflationary increases mandated under Montana law, but special education funding inflationary increases are not mandated.

House Bill 27, which Bachmeier supported and would permanently authorize inflationary increases for special education, was tabled on party-line votes, he said.

He said that the Democrats did work across the aisle and were able to get HB 638 passed with authorized inflationary increases for special education on a temporary basis. Bachmeier added that HB 638 will only last through the biennium.

The preschool bill funding, HB 225, which would created public preschool programs, was also tabled on party line votes, he said, and was unable to get the bill through.

“So next session, we need to come back and we need to work across the aisle and we need to recognize that developing social and emotional skills for early childhood education is critical,” he said. “To not only making sure that students make it through the educational system. … What we see is that when students have access to preschool and early childhood (education) they go on to be more employable and are more likely to have jobs.”

 

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