BY REP. CASEY KNUDSEN
This past week, the Montana House of Representatives passed both House Bill 652, the Long-Range Bonding bill, and House Bill 658, the Medicaid Expansion bill. The bonding bill passed the floor with 68 yes votes and 30 no, and the Medicaid Expansion bill passed with 61 yes votes and 37 no.
I opposed House Bill 658, the Medicaid Expansion bill, largely because the non-severability clause in the bill was removed and replaced with a severability clause. That means if a court finds any portion of the law is unconstitutional or invalid only that part is removed from law.
In the original version of the bill, which can be found on the legislative bill website, there was an explanation for the non-severability clause.
“It is the intent of the legislature that each part of this act is essentially dependent upon every other part.”
This bill has many moving parts: work requirements, asset tests, and quite a bit of reliance on the federal government. By removing the non-severability clause, this bill will essentially become a handout, especially considering work requirements in other states were recently struck down and blocked from implementation by a federal judge.
The severability clause allows that portion of our law to be separated from the rest of the bill. Without the requirement that able-bodied and capable enrollees be engaged at least 80 hours a month in one of a multitude of different activities such as employment, chemical dependency treatment, or education activities, this program turns into no more than a handout.
I also opposed House Bill 652, the bonding bill, as it was written.
Prior to HB 652, the Legislature passed six cash infrastructure bills, which I happily voted for. These cash bills included approximately $229 million that go toward drinking water, sewer, bridges
The infrastructure upgrades in the cash bills include 14 projects in or directly adjacent to House District 33, totaling almost $18 million. Over half of the bond proceeds in HB 652 go to vertical infrastructure projects, such as Romney Hall at MSU-Bozeman, a new dental hygiene lab at MSU-Great Falls and a new armory in Butte.
The argument was made, which I agree with, that these projects should have been included in House Bill 5, which is the Long Range Building Program funded with cash. By shifting those projects from the bonding bill to the cash bill, the state would have saved millions of dollars a year in debt service, allowing for the implementation of other projects that are necessary for many cities and towns to have clean water, safe sewage treatment, and reliable roads and bridges. However, the desire for instant gratification of many of the powerful bureaucrats in our state outweighed what I believe to be fiscal responsibility.
The Legislature will be in session for at least another two to three weeks, and during that time we will continue to debate the best methods to provide our counties, cities, and towns with safe, reliable infrastructure, as well as many other issues.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Representative Casey J. Knudsen, House District 33