Helloooo, friends.

Were you at the Medicaid expansion rally on Saturday??? Because it was incredible.Check out the cute pics from the rally and our Instagram story. You can listen to the committee hearing if you’re so inclined, and MAKE SURE to reach out to committee members.

Your Social Calendar

March 22 — Conservation Day of Action

March 25-26 — Indigenous Movements Interchange

March 27 — Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Day of Action

March 27 — Forward Montana Legislative Tele-Townhall

Speaking of Medicaid…

Did y’all see this shit?

Thanks to George for pointing out that student exemption from work requirements in Rep. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid expansion bill is dependent on students attending a college that doesn’t offer a health insurance plan. Too bad all Montana University System schools offer a health plan and too bad that health plan costs $1,800 PER SEMESTER.

So where does that leave students?Screwed, as usual, because they’d have to meet Buttrey’s 80 hours per month of work requirements while also attending school OR pay a ridiculous amount for health insurance, adding up to $14,480 to their student debt load over four years. Cool. Great. Love it.

Poor Kids Need College Too

Our friends over at Montana Associated Students are seriously going to bat for young folks at the Capitol lately. Budgeting is in full swing, and while the $24 million in funding to continue the tuition freeze for Montana students has remained in the budget — yay! — the governor’s recommended $5 million for need-based aid was cut to $2 million — boooooo. Need-based aid is often the most important factor in ensuring that low-income Montanans can attend college. Keep in mind that this $5 million is not new money, it’s restoring money that has been cut from higher ed funding over the last five years.

So, how do we remind legislators that providing aid for the students who need it most is unbelievably key to Montana’s future? I’m so glad you asked. We posted on Facebook last week about supporting an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee to restore funding to the full $5 million. Unfortunately, that amendment was shot down along party lines — you know which party was on which side, y’all— but we’ll have a few other shots to get it passed. I’ll keep you posted about who to contact when, but for now, it probably wouldn’t hurt to shoot your legislators a lil message about how important this is.

Side note: This funding will be especially important if Buttrey’s Medicaid bill passes and low-income students see an extra $14,480 tacked onto their loan burden.

Tom Richmond Watch

APPARENTLY this is going to become a recurring theme. Sen. Tom Richmond is sponsoring both of the shitty energy bills we talked about last week that would limit the Public Service Commission’s ability to regulate utilities like NorthWestern Energy. SB 199, which would interfere with the usual process NorthWestern has to go through to raise rates, is alive and kicking in the House Energy Committee, with a hearing on Friday.

The other bad bill we talked about, SB 278, is tabled, but don’t breathe easy yet. Richmond and the GOP went with what we in the comms biz call a rebrand — same bullshit, fancy new packaging. He has a new bill, SB 331, that is essentially a zombie version of the old one, which would allow NWE to buy a larger share of the Colstrip coal plant and pass on all the risk to ratepayers, i.e. the majority of Western Montanans, i.e. you and me.

I think this Billings Gazette article summarizes the problem most succinctly: “Richmond’s plan still binds customers to a 30-year Colstrip payment plan, in order to guarantee NorthWestern a full return of the $407 million it’s already paid for 30 percent ownership of Colstrip Unit 4. Those payments would continue even after Colstrip shut down, which is unusual. Typically, customers cannot be charged for a power plant that doesn’t supply them energy. Richmond’s bill would change that.”

So yes, NorthWestern and Tom Richmond are still trying to put you on the hook for continued investment in expensive coal power. Contact the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee by calling (406)444-4800 and tell them hell no. (I mean that figuratively. Swearing is for What the Helena, not the Capitol switchboard operators.)

Making Progress

We’ve seen a lot of movement so far on bills to deal with the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women in our state. Hanna’s Act, which would allow the Department of Justice to aide in missing person cases, passed 99-0 in the House. Bills to require all law enforcement bodies to submit missing person reports within a certain time period and require the Office of Public Instruction to maintain an online repository of school photos have also cleared their initial committee and floor votes.

This Helena Independent Record story has details on these bills and many more that are still alive in the legislature and you can follow our friends at Western Native Voice for more info.

Whatever Happened to Individual Rights?

Here’s a topic we haven’t touched on before in What the Helena, but one that I think is pretty important: medical aid in dying, which is when terminally ill people who still have full mental capacity request a prescription for medication that would end their life, which they then choose to take themselves. It can spare someone with a bad medical prognosis from so much suffering, and it’s been legal in Montana since 2009, when the Montana Supreme Court ruled that it wasn’t against any existing Montana laws.

But this session brings us a pretty egregious bill that would allow doctors to be charged with homicide for issuing this prescription — even when the patient is a consenting adult. The minimum sentence for deliberate homicide in Montana is ten years and the maximum is the freaking death penalty.

HB 284 is a legislative attempt to deny terminally ill Montanans the right to die on their own term, and to criminalize physicians who put their patients’ values and wishes first. Learn how to get involved in this fight by contacting our friend Amy at Compassion and Choices, ajhetzler@compassionandchoices.org.

We’re Tele-Townhalling Again!

Did you call in to our first tele-townhall, where we had some awesome young activists and lobbyists talking about the issues to watch this legislative session? We’re doing it again — and this time we’ll be able to update you on what bills are still alive this session, which ones failed, and where there are still BIG opportunities to get your voice heard.

So call us — from your kitchen, from your car, from the Grammys. We’ll walk you through a legislative update and leave plenty of time for questions. Sign up on our Facebook event!

Alright, I’m off to take a nap and gear up for another big week of yelling about Medicaid and financial aid. See you next Sunday.



Margaret Grayson is Forward Montana’s Legislative Communications Fellow. A recent graduate of University of Montana, Margaret spent three years with the Montana Kaimin as a reporter and editor and interned at the Missoula Independent (RIP). Now she writes jokes for the internet and works to educate young folks about the legislative session.