Sayonara newsblog! Check out the new mtpr.org!

Hey there, all you loyal newsblog followers!

For about the last year and a half, we in the MTPR newsroom have used this blog as a way to give our listeners and other interested parties a place to find our original content online–the full audio, plus text and pictures relevant to the stories.

We did this because we understand the increasing importance the web has on our daily habits as news consumers. Posting our stories to a free WordPress blog gave us the opportunity to provide that content using our available resources.

But, this also has been part of a broader effort to prepare us for the eventual redesign of our website, mtpr.org– a modern upgrade allowing us to post our news content in an even cleaner and more comprehensive way than we have for the blog.

That time has come, and we are so excited for you all to see what this new site can do. From the homepage at mtpr.org, you can see all of our local news content on the left-hand side. In the middle of the page you’ll notice sidebars for our editorial comments as well as for other MTPR programs such as “The Write Question.” On the far right of the page you’ll notice links to podcasts and a calendar of what’s playing on air at that time. Finally, at the top of the screen you’ll see a ‘listen live’ streaming button.

Thank you so much to all of you for sticking with us through this experiment! Here’s to what’s next!!

P.S.

Uh, one more time, the new website…mtpr.org, just click that blue part and you’ll go there.

Disability service providers protest change in Medicaid rate increases


DPHHS Director Richard Opper

Providers of general care for the developmentally disabled are asking the public to speak out against a plan from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to alter an increase in Medicaid dollars for raises.

DPHHS is proposing to take two-percent of a total four-percent increase in rates for these providers and distribute that money in other ways than just an equal raise to all providers. DPHHS Director Richard Opper says this could include putting in place ‘performance measures’ to give higher raises to facilities operating more successfully.

“We are always looking for ways to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” Opper said. “So, if a provider were to come to us with a more creative way to distribute services…I think that kind of innovation needs to be rewarded.”

Opper said he does not have specifics as to what those performance measures may be, and says that’s important, because it’s something he thinks the Department should negotiate with some of the providers of services for the developmentally disabled.

“There has not been any outreach,” said Missoula Developmental Service Corporation CEO Fran Sadowski, who points out these new increased rates go into effect on July first. “So, if that’s his (Opper’s) intent, when is it gonna happen?”

The 2013 Legislature approved two-percent rate increases across the board for providers of Medicaid Services. However, lawmakers singled out providers of services for the developmentally disabled for the larger, four-percent, increases. Sadowski said it’s not unusual for one type of provider to receive a larger increase. She says providers of services for the developmentally disabled have not seen an increase in their rates since 2009.

“We’re not getting rich on this type of increase,” Sadowski said. “Some folks are just trying to stay afloat.”

Sadowski said the disabled patients of facilities like her’s are often under 24-hour care, and if those places shut down the patients may end up on the streets, in a nursing home, or at the state’s institution in Boulder, the Montana Developmental Center. She said MDC costs taxpayers more per patient than community-based centers.

Sen. Mary Caferro (D-Helena)

Sen. Mary Caferro (D-Helena)

Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, led the legislative effort to have higher rate increases for providers of services to the developmentally disabled. She does not at all approve of the idea to make any of the rate increases performance-based.

“There was nothing in the (bill’s) language about distribution options, there are no options,” she said. “It would be wonderful if the executive would respect the legislature and follow legislative intent.”

Opper said the Department wants to negotiate on the plan proposal, adding a straight four-percent increase is not off the table. The public comment period for the proposal ends May 30th

Virginia City celebrating 150 years since Alder Gulch strike this weekend

Virginia City has retained much of its historic architecture from the late 19th century

Virginia City has retained much of its historic architecture from the late 19th century

This Sunday marks 150 years since a small group of gold miners struck it rich up Southwest Montana’s Alder Gulch.

The swarms of people following that strike quickly established Virginia City, Montana’s first territorial capital.

Virginia City remains remarkably well-preserved today and survives off an annual boom of Summer tourists looking to take in the frontier town’s history.

The community is hosting a variety of events all through the weekend to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Alder Gulch Strike.

Click here for Virginia City’s weekend schedule.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce explores how residents keep that history alive in modern times.

 

Pakistani energy officials visit PSC


Hassan Mehmood, Director of Pakistan's Ministry of Petroleum & NR questions Public Service Commissioners Tuesday

Hassan Mehmood, Director of Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum & NR questions Public Service Commissioners Tuesday

Montana Public Service Commissioners Bill Gallagher and Kirk Bushman hosted a discussion Tuesday with high-ranking officials from Pakistan’s energy sector.

The eight Pakistanis are visiting the U.S. through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The group is examining U.S. energy policies to gather ideas for improving Pakistan’s infrastructure. The country of 180 million people is wracked by power outages impacting entire cities and more on a regular basis. It also commonly suffers from shortages of commodities like natural gas.

The Pakistanis compared how the two countries organize utilities with the PSC. During the hour-long discussion,Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum Director Hassan Mehmood asked chairman Gallagher why the state doesn’t require Public Service Commissioners to have special education in a field related to utilities.

Gallagher said that is a challenge of the Montana system—but he says the PSC has that relevant experience on staff and, in the end, the elected commissioners are there to take the votes on subjects like rate changes.

“There’s a steep learning curve,” Gallagher said, “but we’re elected to be the ears and the eyes of the common people.”

The group is also learning about U.S. efforts to address the impacts of climate change and the Pakistanis are paying close attention to the American natural gas boom—in the Bakken and other shale formations.

Pakistan has a natural gas shortage right now, and Petroleum Ministry Director Hassan Mehmood said whether America decides to export its natural gas or not—it could bring prices down for his country.

“We are of the firm view that at least U.S. will not be importing gas, and that gas will become surplus and the suppliers will have to dispose of that gas for the other buyers and Pakistan can be one of the buyers,” Mehmood said.

 

 

Bridge easement lawsuit could impact MT’s stream access law

photo courtesy footloosiety/Flickr

photo courtesy footloosiety/Flickr

A lawsuit concerning a bridge on a county road could lead to major impacts on Montana’s stream access law in a case pitting private property advocates against prominent public access groups.

The state Supreme Court is considering the lawsuit over easements now. Atlanta-based media mogul James Kennedy owns a sizable piece of property on the Ruby River. Several county bridges cross the river on his land and a district court judge found it legal for Kennedy to fence off access to the river on one of those bridges—because of the type of ‘prescriptive easement’ on the bridge.

Public lands access advocates appealed that ruling to the Montana Supreme Court. Now, before the high court, Landowner James Kennedy is arguing a U.S. Supreme Court Decision on a case between Montana and PPL Montana from last year means the state’s stream access law should be thrown out or limited.

President of the United Property Owners of Montana Marc Robbins, said the U.S. court decided the state only owns the banks and beds of rivers if the river was commercially navigable at the time of statehood.

The Ruby River and other small streams like it to not meet that criteria.

“We feel that the state erred in its taking of the stream beds years ago,” Robbins said, “and this PPL ruling definitely turned the tides of the basis for what stream access was founded on.”

Montana Trout Unlimited Executive Director Bruce Farling believes these issues were hashed out by the State Supreme Court before the Stream Access law was established in the 80s.

He said the court decided the state constitution says the public owns the state’s water and they should be able to use it.

“They told the legislature at that time, they said ‘look, the public should have access on these streams to be able to recreate on them, irrespective of whom owns the bed and bank,’” Farling said.

The state supreme court has not made any decision on the case.

Montana receives “F” for its disclosure laws

Map of grades on disclosure laws given by the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Map of grades on disclosure laws given by the National Institute on Money in State Politics

A report released this week by the National Institute on Money in State Politics gives Montana a failing grade on its disclosure laws related to campaign spending in elections.

Twenty-five other states received “F”s in the report, while 15 states received an “A”.

“What we found interesting was that the state’s were either great or awful,” said the Institute’s Managing Director Denise Roth Barber. “There were very few in between.”

Barber describes NIMSP as a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that takes as one of its charges strongly advocating full disclosure in political spending. The report graded states on “disclosure requirements for super PACs, nonprofits and other outside spending groups.”

Barber said there is quite a bit of interest right now on the national level to require more disclosure on spending in federal races.

“But at the state level,” she said, “we don’t actually know in too many states, including Montana, how much money is even spent, let alone where it came from.”

She said the major campaign finance overhaul pitched by Gov. Steve Bullock and carried by Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, called the TRACE Act, could have single-handedly brought Montana’s grade up from an “F” to an “A”. On top of increasing disclosure, that bill would have increased the fines for violating Montana’s current election laws. The bill passed the Senate 29-21 after a heated debate. However, the bill never made it to the House floor and died when the Legislature adjourned.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, complimented Sen. Peterson and supporters for their intentions with the TRACE Act, but said he and other opponents believe the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear: money equals speech when it comes to political spending.

“The protection of anonymity in political speech has been a part of this country since before the founding of the Republic,” Moore said.