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Lang, Knudsen talk about 2019 Legislature


November 4, 2019

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

State Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, talks Friday in the Duck Inn Vineyard Room during a North Central Pachyderm meeting.

State Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, and Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, spoke Friday at the North Central Pachyderm meeting about the 2019 legislative session, and several bills which were passed.

  Knudsen said that a number of big issues were brought up last legislative session, when the Republicans controlled both houses, such as Medicaid expansion. He said that Medicaid expansion passed on hard divided party lines.

"We could see the writing on the wall; the votes were there," he said. "It was going through no matter what, there was really nothing we could do to stop it."

He added that the best that the more conservative side of the Republican party could do was to try to add some stipulations into Medicaid to tighten the bill up and make it more difficult to abuse. 

Montana is one of six states with Medicaid that doesn't require applicants to verify income after enrollment, he said. Knudsen said during the legislative session the Legislature was informed Medicaid saw 25 percent errors on applications which were unresolved. He added that Republicans attempted to have the bill include work requirements, although the motion ultimately failed, due to several lawsuits surrounding work requirements across the country. 

It is mandated by the Montana Constitution to pass a budget every session, he said, and last session the budget was $10.4 billion, he said.

"Montana spends a heck of a lot more than you think," Knudsen said, adding that 60 percent of the budget was allocated for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lang said a number of issues are still in the air about Medicaid expansion, although only one major hospital, St. Vincent in Billings, out of the five in the state did not raise administrative costs across the state. He added that this is not money used for purchasing new equipment or hiring doctors or nurses, but were increased wages for CEOs and administrators. 

"We all support our local hospitals, we know we need them," he said. "Those are the ones who come after us and beat us to death for Medicaid expansion."

He said one problem in the Legislature is being able to get all of the real facts. He said that too often a person gives a speech and provides handouts to different committees, but they don't have adequate time to review the information. He added that it is critical to get all of the facts straight and property review and comprehend the linformation provided to the Legislature.

"But they will not do it," he said. "... They will totally defy the chairman's authority to do it."

He said that reviewing the information is a critical part of a legislator's job, to do the due diligence of the people. 

"I don't like hospital costs, but everyone is going to need them somehow, someway, but it's not fair," he said. 

Knudsen said he honestly doesn't know why some Republicans voted for Medicaid expansion. He said that people have different opinions on things, which is a good thing, but Medicaid was such a blatantly liberal bill he expected it to be more partisan. 

"If you find anybody you agree with 100 percent, one of you needs to be checked out," he said, adding that everyone is different and a few Republicans may have been swept up in the idea the bill was for the best of the state.

He said that some people vote thinking they are doing the right thing, which he can respect, but others are voting certain ways because they are expecting a personal benefit. He added that what he sees happening is a portion of the Republican party, with a liberal agenda, are manipulating funding mechanics within the state budget to buy power within different agencies. He said that the whole idea is if the legislator helps pass a specific bill to benefit an agency, the agency can then help the legislator.

He added that another bill during the session which was divided on party lines was the bonding bill. 

"I believe that nobody knows how to spend your money better than you do," he said, but the other side of the aisle believe it should be the government which controls the economy, the market.

Knudsen said he wholeheartedly disagrees.

Some of the bills he had a direct impact on included passing a switchblade legalization act, he said. He added that half of the cops in the state carry switchblade knives and they are one of the safest, readily available knives for the public. 

One of the reasons the knives were outlawed was because the public's misconception of the knives, having a "West Side Story" idea, where greaser gangs would walk around with switchblades, he said.

He added that the bill passed with one vote opposed.

Another bill passed, which he said he had a direct impact on, was the law restricting courts from suspending a person's driver's license because of unpaid fines and fees. He added that the fees and fines are not crime related and, although a number of courts were not abusing this power, it still allowed it to be abused. Not every court does the same things, he said, but the bill provides guidelines for what should be done. All the bill did was require the courts to sent one more letter to inform a person they are at risk of having their license suspended, giving people another chance to avoid the penalty.

"Let's be realistic, in Montana if you can't drive, it's a struggle to get to work a portion of the year," he said.

He added that courts still have plenty of other ways to go about the process and laws are in place to punish people for doing something wrong, and laws need to be put in place for courts and law enforcement because bad people are everywhere.

Lang said that one of the bills he passed was focused on immigration, originating from an Irish immigrant in Havre. Lang said that the individual is an immigrant from Ireland, and is awaiting to be awarded his green card, and wanted to become a firefighter in Havre, but because of his immigration status was unable to. He said he wanted to pass this bill because a number of legal immigrants want to be employed as firefighters or law enforcement but can't because of their immigration status, and the immigration process can take up to nine years, The bill will allow them to work while going through the process.

"I'm very happy for that young couple and I hope that their lives go on well," he said.

Another issue he dealt with during the legislative session was about sage grouse. He said that no matter where someone is, especially in Montana, Mother Nature plays a major role in their lives, affecting everything.

"We seem to think we can create more birds, and this kind of things, just by giving easements and locking up property, but that's not the case," he said.

He added that 50 percent of sage grouse chicks die every year due to natural predators or conditions, but Montana still has one of the healthiest populations across the country.

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

State Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, standing, listens in the Duck Inn Vineyard Room Friday during a North Central Pachyderm.

Sage grouse regulations have been a contentious hindrance on industry in Montana, but has time goes on sage grouse numbers are strong and the bill needs to be reworked, he said.

"I don't like this law, we need to change a lot of things," he said.

Lang said that on the other side of the argument is Montana was able to avoid a lawsuit last month because of having the law. Although the bill has its benefits, it needs to be worked better, to allow industry and businesses to grow, he said.

Conservation districts have recently stepped up with a number of ranchers to work on putting temporary easements on private ranch to promote sage grouse population for the next 25 years, he said. He said that this is a great idea and 25 years is adequate time to find a solution.

"I think that's a great thing, if we can't figure out in 25 years maybe you better do a new plan," he said.


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