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House Blocks Attempts To Revive Bullock's Medicaid Expansion Bill

Michael Wright - Community News Service

The Republican-controlled House officially killed the governor's Medicaid expansion proposal. That's because House Democrats failed to convince the Republican controlled chamber to reject the "do not pass" recommendation from the House Human Services Committee on the bill. That action came Friday night immediately after a nearly six-and-a-half hour-long hearing.

The motion was to reject the adverse committee report. Had it garnered 60 votes, it would have brought House Bill 249 to the floor for debate. But it failed on a 41-to-59-party line vote.

Before the vote, Democrats tried to persuade Republicans to vote to debate the bill on the floor.

Democratic Representative Ellie Hill is vice chair of the House Human Services Committee. She scolded Republicans for turning their backs on the working poor.
"They're pouring your coffee, they're shoveling your parking lots, they're working your ranches and they're paying for your health care right now," Hill said. "Their tax dollars. You work 90 days every other year. They're paying for your health care right now and you deny them that. And for you legislators taking your federal ag subsidies and you're not willing to take federal money for health care for 70,000 Montanans but you'll take federal ag subsidies for your family."

She says what happened Friday night was wrong.

The bill's sponsor, Representative Pat Noonan, worries about the broader message that was sent by the quick move to executive action after the hearing.

Credit Steve Jess
Rep. Pat Noonan (D) HD74, during a press conference about Medicaid expansion, Monday, March 10, 2015 at the Capitol.

"I understand any legislation can be fixed but people's mistrust in their government, in the democracy, that is something that we cannot repair and cannot be fixed. And that's not just the 250 people that wasted their Friday night. That's the 250 people plus everyone they talked to. That’s the 250 that they say 'don't bother going to Helena. Don't bother going to Helena and testifying on something you care about. Don't bother calling your representative, and heck why even bother voting because it doesn't matter because the decisions has probably already been made before you even get there.'"
Not true, says the chair of the House Human Services Committee. Representative Art Wittich says he did listen to the testimony. And he says this is not the last word as other bills are waiting in the wings.

The attorney from Bozeman challenged the members of the House to think about why they are there and how they got to the Capitol.

Rep. Art Wittich (R) HD68
Credit Montana Legislature
Rep. Art Wittich (R) HD68

"Is this a democracy or a republic? Do you govern like you campaign? Because I do. And I campaigned on the fact that ObamaCare was wrong for the country and Montana. And I won overwhelmingly. And if I run again I'll say the same thing. and in my district I think I'll win."

Wittich denies charges the Republican-controlled committee ran roughshod over Democrats. He says the bill got a fair hearing. He says its time to move on to other bills and he invites Democrats to work on a solution both sides can agree upon.

House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter disagrees with Wittich's assessment that Medicaid expansion got a fair hearing. He says it was tangled in procedural motions that denied discussion and debate.

While this bill is effectively dead, Hunter says Democrats will continue to fight on this issue.

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