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.

Kit Fischer Commentary: “Your Secret’s Safe With Me”

I’ve visited the East Rosebud River every summer I’ve lived in Montana.
Flowing North out of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the East Rosebud winds for some 30 miles before it’s joined by other aspen-lined tributaries- eventually flowing into the Stillwater and the Yellowstone River near Columbus. The water runs cold and clear, with very little diverted for agriculture and nearby development. By late August, when other streams feel like luke-warm kiddy pools, the creek remains cooled by the high elevation snowmelt fed from the 10,000 foot Beartooth plateau. Rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout feed voraciously – even during the middle of the day, feasting on the thousands of grasshoppers blown in from the gusty winds that come down the granite canyons to the south. The bird life is equally spectacular – western tanagers, yellow warblers, rare broad-tailed hummingbirds and far off, the eerie call of what sounds like some prehistoric teradactyl, the trumpet of a sandhill cranes fill the valley.
The river is lined with thick willows, redosier dogwood and aspen thickets, forming a nearly impenetrable fortress from would be wade fishermen. The stream still flows how an old mountain stream should; the cutbanks constantly shift during spring runoff and the willows and beavers take care of the rest. Its fine gravel bottom reflects sunlight from mica and quartz instead of beer cans and bumpers. In 1989 the Forest Service deemed a seven mile section of the creek suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation, although Montana hasn’t awarded a new wild and scenic designation since 1976.
Between the challenging access, icy cold waters, hairpin turns and beaver dams, the river (although probably more accurately, a creek) does a pretty good job of keeping itself a secret. I’ve only taken a handful of good friends fishing there in the 20+ years I’ve made my yearly pilgrimage and I’ve never seen another soul on the river.
We usually haul over my family’s venerable aluminum Grumman canoe. A now ancient relic that my folks acquired in the 70s and has probably explored more Montana rivers than I could list. It’s virtually indestructible. A tank of a canoe, it’s probably worth more in scrap metal than its resale value as a watercraft, but it has never let us down, even after dinging rocks loud enough to alert every fish in the river.
But even the best kept secrets don’t last. I should have known better—it’s often the secret places that are most overlooked for their recreational and wildlife values when energy development and resource extraction come along– and the East Rosebud is no exception. A Bozeman energy development company has recently announced their interest in exploring the possibility of developing a hydropower site on the river. A dam would be located just upstream from my “secret spot”.
It seems to be the catch-22 of all the great hunting and fishing spots that I’ve frequented in Montana. If it’s an easy place to get to, and the wildlife is abundant, the secret won’t last long—but at least it will exist for future generations. It’s the places that take a little extra effort to access – via two track, rutted dirt roads, singletrack trails and bushwacking– not highways and hotels– that tend to hold the best kept places. These places are naturally guarded from becoming huge tourist destinations, but not guarded from development- and Montana’s got plenty of them.
Maybe this year when I make my trip to the East Rosebud I’ll bring a couple more friends along and hopefully in return they will show me some other tucked away secret Montana place.

Kit Fischer writes on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation.

DPHHS provider rate changes anger medical equipment suppliers

Health officials are considering changes to the way the state operates Medicaid.

The 2013 Legislature approved rate increases to providers of Medicaid—the government health service for the poor.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce says stakeholders are applauding some of the changes, but suppliers of medical equipment see a big problem.

DOJ report finds problems with Missoula Police investigations of sexual assault

A Department of Justice report released today finds instances of “significant deficiencies” in the Missoula Police Department’s investigations of sexual assault.

In response, the City of Missoula has signed a comprehensive settlement agreement to reform how the police conduct those investigations.

The announcement comes almost one week after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced agreements to improve how the University of Montana responds to sexual assault allegations.

The investigation into the Missoula Police Department examined over 350 sexual assault reports from 2008 to 2012.

U-S Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Roy Austin, says the investigation revealed Missoula Police officers weren’t adequately trained to properly respond to sex assault complaints, investigations discouraged participation by victims and the department does not effectively coordinate with community partners.

The report says the Police Department’s response to sexual assault allegations were hampered by poor communications sometimes relied on gender-based stereotypes. It specifically points to a case in which a police detective told a woman the gang-rape she was reporting “was probably just a drunken night and a mistake.”  The detective then told her she “came across as kinda passive”. The same woman told Justice Department investigators she felt the detective was not only intimidating and rude, but his demeanor and statements left her feeling he didn’t believe her and that the assault had been her fault.

Another woman who ended up not pursuing criminal charges, reported a detective was constantly telling her how difficult it would be to testify in court.

The agreement requires the police department within two-years implement or revise its policies for investigating assaults, provide training to officers and their supervisors and change practices that discourage women from reporting sexual assaults.