Quick Takes on Today at the Montana Legislature: Medicaid Expansion, Wittich Trial, and the Dropout Age

If not the most important, the most entertaining bit of news from the Montana Legislature today certainly was the news that Art Wittich will face trial for campaign violations during the 2010 election, when he almost certainly coordinated with American Tradition Partnership in his primary campaign. Even better, far better, was the news that the settlement with fellow Bozeman Republican Scott Sales will be part of the testimony. I hope that, now that Sales doesn’t face penalties, he’ll be compelled to testify himself.

Afraid that Montana voters might act to curtail or limit the cruel practice of trapping animals, House Republican, led by Kirk Wagoner, want to limit the public’s right to restrict trapping by initiative. It’s certainly interesting to see a party whose can’t read the plain text of the Constitution, which mandates a clean environment and quality education, wanting to add details to the text to support their point of view.

No doubt persuaded by the evidence-free testimony of three witnesses this week that fraud is rampant in the Montana welfare system, some Republicans want to pay a private company, one that will financially benefit from pushing people off of benefits to root our fraud in the system. That call ignores the reality that fraud is very rare in the system, according to those who administer it:

“Bob Runkel, manager of the agency’s economic security services branch, also told the panel that a recent audit of Medicaid found only 0.4 percent of the applicants had been wrongly accepted or denied.”

Based on the ATP cases, I’d say there was a higher rate of fraud in Republican primaries in this state.

Once again, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau is pushing for a sensible bill that will increase the dropout age from 16 to 18, frankly increasing the difficulty for students who want to leave school, hopefully encouraging them to stay and get a diploma. All of the data available—from brain research to anecdotal observation—makes it clear that students are more likely to make rash decisions when they’re younger, and creating a legal structure to to make dropping out more difficult is just good policy. Those who argue we shouldn’t keep “kids who don’t want to be there” in the system are ignoring the enormous social and economic costs of students who drop out and their obligation to teach students, no matter how difficult they might be.

Republicans may want to stick to inviting ill-informed, biased people to come speak to them, as the decision to invite Ohio Governor John Kasich to speak backfired today. Kasich, known in Republican circles as a deficit hawk, told legislators that Montana Republicans should stop putting ideology ahead of human lives, and should embrace Medicaid expansion. According to Kasich, “I gotta tell you, turning down your money back to Montana on an ideological basis, when people can lose their lives because they get no help, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,”

The Great Falls Tribune has the story and video.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Cowgirl has a post up where she “trolled the internet” as Mr. Wittich’s Star Witness wishes to do for all welfare recipients. What she found was the Star Witness’ home page featuring a selfie of said Star Witness wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the message “Crazy Bitch”. Couldn’t have said it better…..

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