Tag Archives: Montana

MT Republicans plan to expand special session agenda

Source: Mike Dennison, KXLH, November 8, 2017
 
Legislative Republicans plan to expand next week’s special session agenda, to include more options to fill Montana’s $227 million budget hole, MTN News has learned – including $32 million from an account controlled by the owner of the private prison in Shelby. … GOP leaders are drafting a proposed expansion with nine new items, including: Using $32 million from a fund set up to help the state buy the privately run prison at Shelby. The owner of the prison – CoreCivic – controls the money, but has offered to give it to the state — if the state agrees to extend the company’s contract, for another 10 years.  …

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Corrections pledges to increase private prison oversight
Source: Associated Press, November 30, 2016

The Montana Department of Corrections has pledged to strengthen its oversight of a private prison in Shelby after auditors recently found weaknesses in the agency’s monitoring of guard staffing levels, health care services and food service. Department officials said checks have already been increased to ensure mandatory security staffing levels are being met, and they will build more comprehensive checks in the other areas. The Legislative Audit Division did not find any major violations at the Crossroads Correctional Center when auditors conducted surprise visits, analyzed prison data and spoke to former inmates. However, the auditors did report that the department’s on-site contractor assigned to monitor the prison’s health services does not verify that inmates receive timely access to medical care. The department also has not defined the level of review it expects from the contractor and conducts only limited reviews of health services data from the prison, the November report found. … But DOC director Mike Batista said in his written response that the department has already set up reviews of shift rosters, payroll logs, video reviews of staff and other checks as a result of past violations discovered in audits. Batista pledged to increase the review of shift rosters each month. The department also “will build a more comprehensive reporting and compliance check for medical access and timeliness requirements” for its health care monitoring contractor, Batista said. He added that the department’s dietician will review the prison’s menu annually. DOC spokeswoman Judy Beck said Wednesday she did not have further comment beyond Batista’s response to the audit.

Montana to explore purchasing private prison in Shelby
Source: Matt Volz, Associated Press, September 24, 2015

Montana lawmakers on Thursday began exploring whether to purchase a private prison in Shelby when the state’s 20-year contract with Corrections Corporation of America is up in 2019. The state has the option to either buy the Crossroads Correctional Center or extend CCA’s contract for another five to 10 years. … There are 83-full-time correctional officers at the prison, and one vacant position currently, he said. CCA pays more than $7 million in payroll, utilities and other fees, along with $475,000 in annual property taxes, he said.

Towns sell their public water systems — and come to regret it

Source: Elizabeth Douglass, The Washington Post, July 8, 2017

Neglected water infrastructure is a national plague. By one estimate, U.S. water systems need to invest $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen 74 percent in real terms since 1977, and low-interest government loans have not filled the gap. … The prospect of offloading these headaches to for-profit water companies — and fattening city budgets in the process — is enticing to elected officials who worry that rate hikes could cost them their jobs. Once a system has been sold, private operators, not public officials, take the blame for higher rates. But privatization will not magically relieve Americans of the financial burden of upgrading their water infrastructure. … One of the biggest inducements for water deals is the “fair market value” legislation that has been passed in six states — Indiana, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and is being considered by others.  …

… Even as more cities consider selling their water infrastructure, others are trying to wrest control of their systems back from private operators, usually because of complaints about poor service or rate hikes. Since private owners are rarely willing to surrender these lucrative investments, cities usually end up pursuing eminent domain in court. That means proving that city ownership is in the public’s interest and then paying a price determined by the court. Those prices can be exorbitant. …

Lawmakers Table Privatization of $1.6 Billion Insurance Fund

Source: Bobby Caina Calvan, Associated Press, March 24, 2017

Montana lawmakers on Friday put off further discussion on dismantling and privatizing the state’s massive workers compensation system, saying the task was too daunting to take up in the waning days of the legislative session. Instead, the matter will be studied more thoroughly in the months after the Legislature adjourns. Getting rid of the $1.6 billion State Fund would be a major undertaking — not only in practical terms because of the thousands of businesses that would be affected but also politically. While Montana Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, have generally favored privatizing some aspects of big government, they appear split on what to do about the State Fund. …

Officials: Suspended Helena school bus driver acted on company’s direction

Source: Jesse Chaney, Independent Record, March 17, 2017

The Helena school bus driver who was temporarily suspended for leaving two young children at an unfamiliar school without an adult was directed to do so by the school district’s transportation company, officials said. “The driver acted on the direction of First Student,” Helena Public Schools Superintendent Jack Copps said Friday, adding that several school district officials listened to an audio recording that confirms the radio conversation between the bus driver and a dispatcher with the company. The school district has a contract with First Student to provide its transportation services. In a written complaint to Helena Public Schools, Layla Davies said her 6-year-old child and three of his siblings were on a bus that left from Central-Linc School Wednesday when he vomited on himself. The four students were supposed to transfer to another bus at Jefferson School, she wrote, but the driver would not let her 6-year-old and 8-year-old get on the second bus. Davies later found the two young students walking down Broadway Street, her complaint said. Both of them were scared and her youngest was covered in vomit, she wrote. …

Lawmaker breaks ranks with charter school bill

Source: Great Falls Tribune, February 18, 2017

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder broke ranks with many of his fellow Democrats last week when he proposed establishing a statewide public charter school system through House Bill 376. He wants to start a seven-member charter school commission to oversee the new program. … Democrats are generally opposed to charter schools, and a policy adviser for Gov. Steve Bullock spoke against the proposal Wednesday during a hearing before the House Education Committee. The committee has not taken action on the bill yet. … Bullock said last week he has fundamental problems with charter schools, saying he was “skeptical about diverting public dollars to schools that have no accountability.” Windy Boy said in an email his bill does not divert public school funds to any religious or private schools. He said it’s a school within a school. The existing ANB (average number belonging) funding that funds students still exists and will be used to fund students in public charter schools. … The proposal could also face legal challenges. A legislative legal review raised concerns about whether the Legislature has the constitutional authority to establish a charter school commission.

Fix For VA Health Snarls Veterans And Doctors In New Bureaucracy

Source: Quil Lawrence, Eric Whitney, and Michael Tomsic, Kaiser Health News, May 16, 2016

Veterans are still waiting to see a doctor. Two years ago, vets were waiting a long time for care at Veterans Affairs clinics. At one facility in Phoenix, for example, veterans waited on average 115 days for an appointment. … Congress and the VA came up with a fix: Veterans Choice, a $10 billion program. Veterans received a card that was supposed to allow them to see a non-VA doctor if they were either more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or they were going to have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA provider to see them. The problem was, Congress gave them only 90 days to set up the system. Facing that deadline, the VA turned to two private companies to administer the program — helping veterans get an appointment with a doctor and then working with the VA to pay that doctor. … Wait times have gotten worse. Compared to this time last year, there are 70,000 more appointments where it took vets at least a month to be seen, according to the VA’s own audit. …

… This is playing out in a big way in Montana. That state has more veterans per capita than any state besides Alaska. … Hospitals, clinics and doctors across the country have complained about not getting paid, or only paid very slowly. Some have just stopped taking Veterans Choice patients altogether, and Montana’s largest health care network, Billings Clinic, doesn’t accept any VA Choice patients. … The delays have become a frustration within the VA, too. Tymalyn James is a nurse care manager at the VA clinic in Wilmington, North Carolina. She said Choice has made the original problem worse. When she and her colleagues are swamped and refer someone outside the VA, it’s supposed to help the veteran get care more quickly. But James said the opposite is happening. …

The For-Profit Probation Maze: A for-profit “offender-funded probation” payment system unfairly penalizes, and often traps, the poor

Source: J. Weston Phippen, National Journal, December 16, 2015

In the Mis­sis­sippi Delta town of Green­wood, a for-profit com­pany prom­ised city lead­ers it could take over its cash-strapped pro­ba­tion sys­tem without any ex­pense to tax­pay­ers. Not only that, but the com­pany said it could ac­tu­ally turn a profit for it­self, and the city, by col­lect­ing fines. Just eight months later, nearly 10 per­cent of the town’s 15,000 pop­u­la­tion was on pro­ba­tion for minor of­fenses like traffic vi­ol­a­tions and ow­ing fees to the com­pany. By the time city lead­ers real­ized the dam­age, the com­pany had en­titled it­self to profits of at least $48,000 a month, all paid for, as one county of­fi­cial said, “off the backs of the poor people.” …..

The For-Profit Probation Maze

Montana to outsource autopsies in July

Source: Spokesman Review, June 29, 2015

Montana autopsies will have to be done in other states in the coming weeks because the state’s only two forensic medical examiners qualified to assist county coroners are leaving. …. The bodies of those who die under suspicious circumstances in the western part of the state will be driven by a coroner to Seattle. Bodies in the eastern part of the state will be transported to Rapid City, South Dakota, for autopsy.

A Privatized River Runs Through It

Source: Kate Whittle, In These Times, May 19, 2015

Missoula, Montana, the scenic mountain town that inspired A River Runs Through It, is fighting for control of the aquifer beneath it. Citing eminent domain, Missoula sued last year to take over the local water utility, Mountain Water Company, from its corporate owner, the Carlyle Group, a global investment firm with $194 billion in assets. Standing against this multi-billiondollar firm is the town of Missoula, with a population of 70,000 and an annual budget of about $116 million.

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Public-Private Deals Spark Turmoil Montana City Attempts to Regain Control of Water System From Carlyle Group
Source: Mark Peters and Ryan Dezember, Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2014

Three years ago, Carlyle Group LP bought the pipes, pumps and water wells in Missoula, Mont., and several California communities in what the firm assumed was a relatively low-risk bet. By most accounts, drinking-water systems nationwide need hundreds of billions of dollars in repairs and upgrades, making them ripe for private investment. But the reality has been more complicated. Carlyle finds itself fighting in court to retain control of the Montana water utility. Missoula officials are suing under eminent domain laws to take control, accusing one of the world’s largest private-equity firms of reneging on a handshake deal to sell the system to the city. One of the California locales is considering a similar takeover for its water system. The dispute highlights the difficulties in what seems like a natural fit: using private money to fix the nation’s leaky pipes, outdated airports and crumbling bridges. “When we began, we thought municipalities would be open to involving the private sector,” said Robert Dove, who leads Carlyle’s infrastructure investing. “That has turned out to be more of a challenge.” In Washington, officials from both political parties are calling for more private investment in public works. The government says U.S. drinking water infrastructure alone needs $385 billion in repairs and upgrades by 2030. President Barack Obama in July launched an initiative to boost private investment in transit systems and utilities, and a congressional panel expects to issue a report this month on involving private firms in public infrastructure. Meanwhile, investors have committed about $263 billion to infrastructure funds since 2006, according to private-equity data tracker Preqin…

Get Out of Jail, Inc.

Source: Sarah Stillman, New Yorker, June 23, 2014

Does the alternatives-to-incarceration industry profit from injustice? …. As we set off beneath loblolly pines, she recounted the events that had led me to her doorstep: her arrest and jailing for a string of traffic tickets that she was unable to pay. It was, in part, a story of poverty and constraint, but it was also a story of the lucrative and fast-growing “alternatives to incarceration” industry…..

….When she was unable to pay her fines, a judge sentenced her to two years of probation with Judicial Correction Services, a for-profit company; she would owe J.C.S. the sum of two hundred dollars a month, with forty of it going toward a “supervision” fee. Cleveland considered the arrangement a reprieve…..

…..With municipal budgets under enormous strain across the country, the industry has also pitched itself as a source of revenue for small courts. “If your municipality is looking to reduce incarceration rates and to increase the collection of fines and court costs in the municipal court, please give our office a call today,” the Georgia-based Freedom Probation Services advertises. In return for an exclusive contract with a municipality, companies like Freedom Probation offer their services to courts for free. The private-probation business has established a presence in such states as Utah, Missouri, Montana, and Colorado, although its home remains in the Cotton Belt. The industry aims to shift the financial burden of probation directly onto probationers. Often, this means charging petty offenders—such as those with traffic debts—for a government service that was once provided for free. These probationers aren’t just paying a court-ordered fine; they’re typically paying an ever-growing share of the court’s administrative expenses, as well as a separate fee to the for-profit company that supervises their probation and enforces a payment schedule—a consolidated weekly or monthly set of charges divided between the court and the company. The system is known as “offender-funded” justice. But legal challenges to it are mounting, amid concerns about abuse, corruption, and the use of state penalties to collect private profits. In a wide range of cases, offender-funded justice may not result in justice at all……