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Boulder crafting legislative plan

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Montana Developmental Center

The sign at the entrance to the Montana Developmental Center is pictured. 

The Friday, Sept. 16 Missoulian contained an opinion piece by Hamilton area legislator Ron Ehli.

We appreciate his input and message to the citizens of Boulder but believe that some of what he has to say is not complete or fully informed.

In one sentence, he writes, “The main objective of (Senate Bill 411) may have been to close (the Montana Developmental Center), but another important objective of the bill sponsor was to repurpose the campus in Boulder, protect jobs, and thus the economy of Boulder.”

We acknowledge repurposing the MDC campus and protecting jobs and the local economy may have been an objective of some who voted in favor of the bill, but records demonstrate that it was not “an important objective of the bill sponsor.”

The original draft of the bill as introduced by the sponsor, Sen. Mary Caferro of Helena, contained no language whatsoever about those issues. It was not until April 13, 2015, during executive action of the House Human Services Committee that those issues were introduced, coming then as amendments offered by Rep. Kirk Wagoner of Montana City, whose district includes the Boulder area. Supporting evidence exists on the official legislative website.

Rep. Ehli’s advice that the citizens of Boulder ask questions, stand up for themselves and approach the legislature for help is well taken. That is exactly what the community has been working on through the Boulder Transition Advisory Committee (BTAC) and the Making Boulder’s Future Bright effort. Dozens of citizens have devoted many, many hours to getting ready for the upcoming legislative session, and Ehli should rest assured that the citizenry will do its best to be heard when the legislative session begins in January.

We take a little bit of an issue with Ehli’s claim that there has been an “apparent lack of input” from the governor’s office and administration staff on this matter. Boulder has seen far more input from that wing of the government than from the many legislators who voted in favor of SB411. Several legislators, all Democrats who opposed SB411, have been actively involved in the Making Boulder’s Future Bright and BTAC effort. The Governor’s Budget Director, Dan Villa, has also spent many hours visiting with and listening to the citizens in those efforts.

Some of those efforts have also addressed the topic raised by Ehli about the forensic overflow from Montana State Hospital.

We feel confident that any legislator who voted in favor of SB411 who wants to be involved in helping Boulder citizens craft a repurposing and economic protection plan to take to the upcoming session would be welcomed to any of the citizen meetings set to address that. A meeting of the MDC Repurposing Committee is set for Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 3:30 p.m. at the county clerk and recorder’s building.

A meeting of the Attracting Business Committee is set for Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the city hall. The BTAC will meet Oct. 12 at 8 a.m. at city hall. All of the meetings on this topic are listed on the website under “Get Connected.”

We urge Ehli and those legislators who share his concerns about the future welfare of our community to get involved in our ongoing efforts. The more advice we can get about crafting a viable plan that will gain legislative approval, the better off we will be.

This editorial was originally published in the Boulder Monitor. 

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