State starts testing new tracking system for rape kits
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Department of Justice is entering the state’s backlog of rape kits into a new system that will track and monitor the status of the kits.
The Independent Record reports several sexual assault kits from eastern Montanan arrived in Helena this week to be logged into the tracking system. The state has an estimated 1,400 rape kits that have yet to be tested.
The use of the tracking system comes after the state received over $2.2 million in grants to pay for testing and maintain an inventory of the kits and track them as they are tested.
To help whittle away at the backlog, the state has asked the 10 largest jurisdictions to send 30 kits each to the FBI for testing.
Montana Senate endorses $10.3B state budget for 2018-2019
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate has endorsed its version of the 2018-2019 state budget.
Monday’s initial vote was 29-20. The bill must pass a final vote before it goes back to the House, and then a conference committee where negotiators will hammer out the final numbers.
Relatively few additions were made during Monday’s daylong floor debate. Democratic lawmakers failed to gain the support to insert money for home health caregivers, child protection service workers, higher education and a pre-school grant program.
The Republican-led Legislature is seeking to shore up a budget shortfall and leave at least $200 million in reserve in 2019, the end of the two-year budget cycle.
Lawmakers are doing so mainly through spending cuts, while Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is urging lesser cuts plus tax hikes to leave a $300 million ending fund balance.
Montana Senate passes broadband internet privacy measure
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate has approved a measure that would bar internet service providers from being awarded state contracts if they collect data from their customers without consent.
The Senate voted 46-0 Monday to insert the provision into the 2018-2019 state budget.
The measure is in response to Congress voting to block rules that would have put restrictions on what companies like Charter can do with their customers’ information, such as their internet browsing history.
Republican Sen. Ryan Osmundson of Buffalo says his measure would ensure that internet service providers seek the consent of customers before using or selling their information. If they don’t, he says, they won’t be doing business with the state.
The budget must be approved before the measure becomes effective.
Minnesota’s state Senate passed a similar broadband privacy measure last week.
House endorses bill addressing air ambulance costs
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House has endorsed a bill that would prevent patients from receiving huge bills from air ambulance providers that are not in-network with their insurance plans.
Representatives voted 95-4 Monday in favor of Senate Bill 44 on second reading. It now goes to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.
Under the bill, air ambulance patients would have to pay their co-payments and co-insurance costs and their insurer must pay the amount they would pay an in-network provider for the same service.
Any further price dispute would be handled between the insurer and the air ambulance company, via mediation or by taking it to court. Both sides would be responsible for their own legal fees.
Federal law prohibits states from regulating the routes, fares and services of airlines. States have struggled to help patients with high air ambulance costs.
Medi-Share now available in Montana
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A health care cost-sharing program offered by Christian Care Ministry is now available in Montana.
Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Matt Rosendale said Monday he has found that the current Medi-Share program is not insurance and is not subject to regulation by his office.
Medi-Share members deposit their monthly share amounts into their accounts and the money is removed as fellow members’ medical bills are received. The program does not guarantee that all medical bills will be paid. Monthly contributions are based on household size and the medical costs a household will pay each year before requesting financial help.
People who join Medi-Share must have “a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” and attest that they do not use tobacco or illegal drugs or abuse alcohol and do not engage in sex outside a “Biblical Christian marriage.”
Tester says he’ll oppose Neil Gorsuch US for Supreme Court
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana says he will oppose Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tester said Sunday that Gorsuch did not directly answer questions when the two met or during Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, so Tester based his decision on the judge’s past cases.
Tester says he found troubling Gorsuch’s record on privacy and that he places corporations over people.
Tester is up for re-election in 2018, though he does not yet have a challenger.
Three other Democratic senators who face elections next year have announced they are backing Gorsuch. Tester has been the target of ad campaigns by conservative groups seeking Gorsuch’s confirmation.
His fellow Montana senator, Steve Daines, added pressure by holding a news conference in February with state lawmakers in Helena to promote Gorsuch’s candidacy.