I-185 from a Legislator’s Perspective

Ken Holmlund
Thursday, October 18, 2018
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My name is Ken Holmlund and I am the member Montana State House of Representatives from Miles City. I have served two terms in the Appropriations Committee, serving in the 2015 and 2017 sessions.

I am aware that all registered voters in Montana should have received their voter information packet in the mail but based on the number of calls I have gotten and the large number of people that have stopped me on the street, there is a lot of confusion on I-185 (medicaide expansion). By no means do I wish to imply that the information I am going to provide is the feeling of every one of the 100 members of the House. My intention is to give you some facts to consider when you vote either for or against I-185.

A very important part of a bill brought to the Legislature to become law is the definition section. Without concise definitions, a bill is likely to have difficulty passing. Make no mistake about it, IF I-185 PASSES IT COULD BECOME LAW. Law that the Legislature cannot change through a simple vote. It would have to go back to the people to change it.

Let’s look at some important definitions for I-185:

Initiative-an act by the people of the State of Montana to bring what could become a law to the vote of the people. Probably the best know initiative is the term limits on elected officials.

Appropriation-the act of assigning money acquired by taxation or fees to a state program.

Statutory Appropriation-an appropriation used for a specific purpose and listing a specific source of funding that will be ongoing until the Legislature acts to stop it. Not usually even looked at by the Legislature, in most instances.

Sunset Clause-a line in a bill that sets a specific time frame that a statutory appropriation must be addressed by the Legislature. By itself it does not kill a bill.

Constitutionality-whether a bill or initiative is in complete agreement with the Constitution of the State of Montana. If a bill or initiative is determined to be unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court it will become invalid.

Now let’s look at I-185 under the definitions given above.

Article III, Section 4 of the Montana Constitution reads:

The people may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local and special laws.

I am not a lawyer and surely am not a justice of the Supreme Court but it seems to me that by a simple reading of the initiative, it is appropriating money through a tax and applying it to a state program, i.e. Medicaide expansion.

What happens if I-185 passes? The sunset clause will be eliminated and any and all control of Medicaide Expansion will be taken away from the Legislature. The funds appropriated to pay for the expansion are limited by the initiative to $26 million, far below the amount needed to fund the program. The shortfall will have to be funded through General Fund money, which is a fund of your taxes and therefore is a limited source. Something will have to give-either fewer services to the people or higher taxes on the citizens of Montana. We will have no other choice.

What happens if the Supreme Court declares I-185 unconstitutional? The law would be invalid and would return to the law we passed in 2015. Since the sunset date would have passed the law would expire and total chaos could be the result. As the Legislature will, most likely, not be in session would it require a special session to address the issue? Very possibly.

I apologize for the length of this op-ed but this is a very important and complicated issue and I believe one requiring some research and understanding. I know the advertising on the television, radio and newspapers has been confusing so I ask you to consider the information I have given very seriously. If you want more information before voting, please contact me or your local Representative or Senator. I am listed in the Miles City directory any your local person is available on the internet at leg.mt.gov.

Please become educated before voting on this issue.

( Ken Holmlund is a member of the Montana State House of Representatives from Miles City.)