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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Medicaid Expansion Passes House In Saturday Vote, Now Back To Senate

On Saturday the Montana House gave final approval to a bill expand Medicaid coverage to Montana's working poor on a 54-to-42 vote.

The bill was the subject of numerous procedural moves to keep it off the floor for debate. And even after last Thursday’s floor debate, opponents tried again to submarine the bill.

In the House, it took nine Floor votes last week to get Senate Bill 405 to its third and final vote Saturday. Of those, nearly all were over procedural matters. This included 3 even before vote to blast the bill to the floor for debate.

Last Thursday, after it won preliminary approval there was a motion to re-refer the bill to the House Appropriations Committee. It was successfully challenged and blocked.

It was re-offered Friday afternoon. A clearly angry Appropriations Chair Nancy Ballance charged a gentlemen’s agreement over the rules had been broken.

"This duplicity in my opinion is unbecoming of a leader in this body and I believe that we can no longer trust the integrity in this body of the minority leader," Balance said.

Audible groans could be heard on the House floor and most of the Democratic caucus immediately rose from their seats to signal their objection.

But Ballance continued: "I do keep my word and I’ll give my word right her and now Appropriations will not kill this bill. Appropriations will not amend this bill."

In response, Minority Leader Chuck Hunter said he would not speak to Ballance’s allegations directed at him. Instead, he said he remained concern that the real motive is to kill this bill.

"This is one of the most important bills that we as a body have heard," Hunter said. "We had a majority yesterday that said let’s not send it to appropriations, out of fear of w might happen there. We have seen attempts on 405 before to summarily deal with the bill and kill it. Well perhaps that’s not the attention of the Chair of Appropriations Committee only she knows that."

Hunter said even going back to the 2013 session,Medicaid expansion was the subject time and time again of procedural roadblocks.

Friday, the House again rejected sending the bill to Appropriations.

Then, the chamber rejected a motion from Representative Art Wittich to re-open the bill for floor debate. Wittich appealed, citing the rules. The Rules Committee met late Friday afternoon.

Saturday morning, the House rejected that Rules Committee report. The action cleared the way for the third and final 54-to-42 vote on Senate Bill 405.

Throughout the week a group of Republicans joined with all Democrats to provide the majority needed to advance the bill through the process.

Because of a House Amendment, the bill now goes back to the Senate for reconsideration.

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