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SB 271 Extends the Closure of MDC for Two Years and Corrects the Problem with the Reimbursement System for Developmental Disabilities Services

SB 271 "Revise laws related to the closure of the Montana Developmental Center," sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, is the more conservative of the MDC bills to be presented this session. It would extend the closure of MDC for two more years as does HB 387 sponsored by Rep. Wagoner, but it does not ask the legislature to rename part of MDC and keep that 12 bed unit open for the foreseeable future.

The bill also addresses the main problem that providers of community services for developmental disability services identified that interferes with the closure of the Montana Developmental Center – the way that people are reimbursed for services provided to people with developmental disabilities or the "0208 waiver."

Since the last legislative session, the Montana Developmental Center (MDC) Transition Planning Advisory Council met nearly every month. The process to transition people into community services has been very successful. MDC started at a census of 54 and now it is at a census of 25.

Many issues were discussed in these meetings, but a constant issue was the difficulty that providers of community services have with the method of payment for services. Many of these individuals are assigned cost plans, which assess the type of services that they need. These cost plans range greatly in Montana. The average cost is around $40,000 a year. With more challenging to serve individuals, with autism, or with developmental disabilities and co-occurring mental illness, cost plans are larger - in the range of $180,000 or $200,000 a year.      

Unfortunately, because of the way that the payment system works - which is called a waiver system - providers and individuals cannot access all of the funds in each cost plan. Many providers need to return money that was allocated to services for clients at the end of the year. This is not because they couldn’t have used that money to pay for professional intervention, or for raises for their workers. This is because of the unwieldy way that the waiver (designated the 0208 waiver) works. This problem makes it difficult for providers to get sufficient staff to help more complicated clients.

As part of the plan to close the facility, the Department did promise to work on amending the 0208 waiver in May 2017. This was frustrating as solving the problem with the 0208 waiver is critical to the successful completion of the MDC closure that started in May 2015. This bill requires that the Department follow through with this promise and submit a waiver amendment to the federal government by the end of September 2017.

As this process will take some time, the second part of the bill extends the MDC closure process by two more years as the 25 individuals who are currently there have not been transitioned to the community yet, though 11 have been referred to community providers. The bill allows individuals in crisis to be involuntarily committed to MDC, but caps the census of MDC at 26 to ensure that closure can still occur.

HB 387 Renames Part of the Montana Developmental Center and Keeps it Open For the Foreseeable Future.

Sponsored by Rep. Kirk Wagoner, HB 387 "Authorize establishment of a 12-bed intensive behavioral center" claims to do two things. It claims to close the Montana Developmental Center in two years but it also renames part of MDC as an "intensive behavioral center" and keeps it open into the foreseeable future.

Disability Rights Montana has participated in the process to close Montana Developmental Center, and it has been a tremendous success so far. MDC started with a census of 54 in 2015 when the bill to close MDC was passed. Two years later, MDC is at a census of 25, after the rest of the residents have been transitioned into community life. Currently 11 more people at the facility have been referred to community placements. 

DRM does not object to part of what HB 387 does - the extending of the closure process for two more years. These transitions take time and providers need to purchase property, hire staff and train them to prepare for the transition of more residents. 

However, DRM does object to the other part of the bill - the renaming of the ASU portion of MDC and the establishment of this 12 bed facility to be used for the foreseeable future. 

We at DRM are provided all of the investigations of abuse and neglect allegations that are conducted by the Department of Justice. We are sad to report that the rate of abuse and neglect at MDC has not appreciably declined in the last two years. We are also aware of situations where residents did not get appropriate services while in MDC, who improved markedly after receiving services from providers in the community. We do not trust that people receive appropriate, professional treatment at MDC. Click here to read more.

Legislator argues MSH patients should have a hearing before transfer to prison

Image of Senator Roger WebbUndeterred by Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto two years ago, Sen. Roger Webb introduced a bill Monday that would require a hearing before a patient found “guilty but mentally ill” can be transferred from the Montana State Hospital to the State Prison.

The three-term Republican argued that the current transfer procedure -- which involves a review board composed of state employees and does not grant the patient any representation or notice -- is a violation of due process rights and undermines the intent of judges who sentence convicts to intensive treatment only found at the hospital.

“All we’re asking for is an independent review board. Absolutely I don’t want just folks employed by (the Department of Public Health and Human Services), which is kinda like the fox watching the hen house,” he said. “This is about accountability. And it gives the individual a fighting chance at his own civil rights.”

“What we’re most concerned about as judges is making sure the individual who is guilty but mentally ill is taken care of. Most of the time it’s not their fault what happens,” he said. “They don’t belong in prison. They can’t get along (in general population) and end up in solitary confinement … All this bill does is make the Department prove before they transfer somebody that it’s in their best interest.”

Webb’s measure is similar to one he carried in 2015. It passed the Senate, 45-5, and the House, 97-1, but was vetoed by Bullock. A mail vote to override the veto failed to reach the necessary two-thirds approval, falling short 16 votes in the House and 6 votes in the Senate.

In a May 2015 veto letter, Bullock wrote the bill would create “an additional and costly taxpayer-funded hearing to second-guess the recommendations of the inmate treating professionals. It gives GBMI inmates special rights after they have already received full due process of law when they were found guilty, sentenced and had the right to appeal.”

His letter also noted overcrowding at the forensic unit of the state hospital and called the transfer process “rare.”

In the last five years, 26 people have been transferred from the state hospital to the state prison and only two have been transferred back, Webb, DPHHS officials and others testified.

Bullock Communications Director Ronja Abel said in a written statement that Bullock is monitoring the bill, but declined to say whether he intended to veto it this year.

“The governor continues to have concerns about the potential cost to taxpayers resulting from the bill, the failure to recognize the recommendations of treatment professionals, and the safety of staff and patients,” she said.

Click here for Helena IR post.

HB 364 Would Encourage Scrutiny and Possible Criminal Prosecution of Legitimate Service Animal Owners

On Monday, February 13, 2017, the House Human Services Committee heard HB 364 "Revise service animal laws." Sponsored by Rep. Denley Loge, this bill attempts to ensure that people who misrepresent their animals as service animals are dissuaded from doing so. This is a reasonable goal, but we are concerned that the state of federal law and the language of this bill would encourage confrontations and investigations of people with disabilities who legitimately use service animals.

Federal law currently does not allow a business owner to require proof that a service animal is a service animal. There are a number of reasons for this . . .  Click here to read the entire article.

Do You Think it Is a Good Idea for Montana to Join the Rest of the Nation and Provide Special Education Past Age 18?

Then SUPPORT HB 274 by contacting the House Education Committee members listed below.

The hearing on January 30, 2017, went very well.  Make sure that the members of the House Education Committee hear from you about support for HB 274. They will be voting soon in executive session whether to send it to the House floor with a "do pass," or do not. All interested parties are urged to provide input either through public testimony, calls, letters, faxes, or through the legislative online message system.

Sponsored by Rep. Kathy Kelker, this bill entitled “Allow ANB funding for students with disabilities up to age 22" would allow students with disabilities who have not reached 22 years of age by September 10 of the school year and have not yet met graduation requirements, to be included in the calculation of the average number belonging (ANB) in a school district for purposes of their funding. Click here to read the entire article and for contact information for Committee Members.

First Fridays Family Training poster


Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Rally in the Montana Capitol Rotunda

Tal Goldin

Tal M. Goldin, DRM attorney, spoke at the MLK Day Rally on January 16, 2017. Below is an exerpt from his remarks.

Today, as the nation gathers to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded that Dr. King served as a luminary for justice and equality for all. Not just racial minorities, but for all people marginalized on the basis of “immutable traits” over which they have no control. “Justice [Dr. King wrote] is the same for all issues; it cannot be categorized. It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people. Justice cannot be divided.”

Dr. King’s teachings in non-violent protest formed the backbone of the disability rights movement that came of age in the 1970s. Indeed, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the groundbreaking federal law prohibiting disability discrimination in federally funded programs, was crafted in the image of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   However, it was not until 1977 that the regulations which implement Section 504 were finally put into place following a series of non-violent protests building on the model set by Dr. King.

                       * * * *

[I]t was not until 1990 that the civil rights movement was truly realized for people with disabilities. That year, Congress, enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act, which brought civil rights protections to people with disabilities in all areas of public life, from government buildings, to movie theatres, to telecommunications and beyond. Passage of the ADA was aided by strong bipartisan support, including Republican Sen. Bob Dole, himself a wounded World War II veteran, and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, whose brother was deaf.

                      * * * *

[T]o paraphrase Senator Dole, disability is the one club that is always accepting new members. As a colleague of mine says, we are all just temporarily able bodied. At any point, walking down the stairs of our beautiful Capitol, or crossing the street, any one of us could be personally and fundamentally changed by disability. 

Whether you believe, as Dr. King did, that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” or whether you believe it is best to act only in your self-interest, the required course of action on this issue is the same.  Some might consider it good will, other insurance. Either way, I implore you, as you do the difficult work of legislating this session, take the spirit of Dr. King with you and remember, “the time is always right to do what is right.”

To read Mr. Goldin's remarks in its entirety, please click here.

2017 Legislative Session

The 2017 Montana Legislative Session began January 2, 2017.  As we have in prior years, DRM will be producing a short legislative e-newsletter nearly every Friday during the session to keep you all up to date on issues we care about. From critical decision making during the budget process, to monitoring our institutions, to protecting the disability community’s civil rights, we will endeavor to give you concise information to keep you informed and enable you to participate in the process. We are very lucky that our legislators are far more accessible than in other states. Make sure your legislators hear from you! Read the latest edition of our Legislative Update here!

DRM Education Website and Student Rights Handbook

Disability Rights Montana launched its Education Website and published its Student Rights Handbook. The project is designed to help parents, advocates, and educators learn about the legal requirements and resources available for students with disabilities and to help ensure the civil and legal rights of students with disabilities are protected to the maximum extent of the law.  The site focuses on the educational rights of children with disabilities, but also covers information applicable to students with disabilities of all ages. Our Education Website can be accessed here on our home page by clicking "Education" on the Menu Bar above or directly at The Student Rights manual can be found on the site or directly at  

On the site you will find information about DRM′s education workgroup, the legal rights of students with disabilities, resources for parents, students and educators, and sample forms to assist parents and advocates in protecting student’s rights. It is our hope that this website will be a valuable resource for everyone working to educate Montanans of all abilities. 

We welcome feedback and comments for how we can improve our Education Website as well as information about resources and practitioners we should include. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact DRM. DRM’s Education Website and Student Rights Handbook were authored by Tal Goldin, supervising attorney for DRM’s Education Unit, with editing assistance from Kelsi Steele, DRM Education Advocate, and Laurie Danforth, DRM paralegal and executive assistant.  The project was supported in part by a generous grant from the Montana Justice Foundation.

Disability Rights Montana License Plate now available

Disability Rights Montana's specialty license plate is now available. You can purchase the plate by visiting your county treasurer's office. A one-time administrative fee and production cost for the specialty plate will be collected along with the standard vehicle registration fee and sponsor donation fee.

DRM License Plate Design

$20 Yearly Tax-deductible Donation to DRM
$10 One-time Administration Fee
$10 One-time Production Cost

Please show your support with the DRM license plate! Your purchase of the plate includes a $20 tax-deductible donation to support DRM and its work to protect the rights of Montanans with disabilities.

DRM released its September issue of its Transition Newsletter. You can access the Newsletter by clicking here. Articles include: What is the PABSS Program and how can PABSS help schools and students and their families?; and What is the Client Assistance Program and Transition services mandated in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). There is also a calendar of upcoming events. 

Best Practices in Community Services for People Who Have Developmenta...

Below is a video of a converation with Allan Bergman with a positive view of the national movement to close institutions, as it has led to the creation of systems that help people live fuller and more positive lives than they had in institutional settings.

This video is a follow-up to the first in the bipartisan public education series "Best Practices in Community Services for People who have Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities" which was held on March 23, 2016, at the Montana Capitol. The bipartisan public education series was developed by Senator Ed Buttrey and Senator Mary Caferroto to help build understanding of cri More....

Patients Challenge Isolation, Abuse, and Failed Treatment at Montana ...

On August 15, 2016, four patients at Montana State Hospital sued state officials and staff for the isolation, abusive and deficient treatment they have been subjected to at the Hospital in Warm Springs. The lawsuit alleges that officials at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services as well as staff at the Montana State Hospital have violated state and federal law in their treatment of the four patients. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop these practices as well as damages for the patients for the harm they have suffered.

Two of the patients have been subjected to long-term isolation nearly 24 hours a day for more than a year. This has markedly worsened their conditions and caused them extreme psychological and emotional harm.

A third patient was sub More....

DRM Releases Report
Disability Rights Montana released a report January 23, 2015, with significant details of numerous case stories of abuse and neglect at the Montana Developmental Center.  Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice over the course of the past year reveal that twenty-seven staff members, including the Director of Quality Assurance and Superintendent, have been involved in the case stories.  Some of the cases involve serious injuries, rape, and felony assault.   

DRM has monitored MDC for more than twenty years, and cites a climate and culture at MDC that perpetuates and tolerates abuse.  The cases cited in the report document slapping, grabbing, squeezing, pulling residents by the ankles, throwing them hard to the ground, kneeling o More....