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I read with interest the session wrap-up on May 1 from Speaker Greg Hertz. Conspicuously absent were the major successes for Montana that must be noted and celebrated by all conservatives, regardless of party politics. Conservative solutions for Medicaid expansion and reform, major school choice policy and a fiscal framework for infrastructure will deliver huge dividends for our constituents.

When Medicaid was originally expanded in 2015, the sunset date was included to coincide with a potential change of power in Washington, D.C. While that power shift did occur and Republicans took control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress and the presidency, Congress failed to deliver on its promise to address the Affordable Care Act. Now Democrats have retaken control of the U.S. House and the president has stated publicly there will be no movement on health care until after the 2020 elections.

Faced with the reality that no help was coming from the federal government, the 2019 Legislature was left to reform the only option available to the nearly 100,000 Montanans searching for affordable health care, mental health services and treatment for chronic conditions. The existing Medicaid expansion program was reformed to ensure effective work requirements and reasonable premiums payments were included. An asset test was enacted so that individuals with significant financial worth would not qualify for the program and Montana residency was made a firm requirement.

Montanans are still justifiably divided on the issue of Medicaid but without a major change at the federal level there is no real path to lower healthcare costs and ensure access to medical care. The Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act will allow our rural hospitals to remain viable while slowing the growth of healthcare premiums in Montana. Until the U.S. Congress displays the political will to address the Affordable Care Act, the reform of Medicaid expansion is the right solution for Montana.

School choice has been a topic of discussion in the Montana Legislature since my first session in 2013, with precious little to show for the effort. Career and technical education received lip service while worker shortages continued to grow in industries requiring skilled tradesmen. Meanwhile, the glut of college educated candidates for every entry level professional opening would indicate that our existing approach to post-secondary education is not balanced with the needs of our expanding economy.

Several bills were passed this session to address our workforce imbalance. Expanded options in the proficiency learning program were enacted along with a revision to community college funding, providing middle school, high school and post-secondary students with greater opportunity to pursue work related training that aligns with their chosen technical career path. Some of the associated costs of these expanded programs can now be recovered by the student or the student’s family.

Infrastructure funding has also been a major point of contention in every legislative session in which I served. Some legislators argued over which infrastructure projects to fund while others argued over the best monetary strategy to use to pay for the projects. These two arguments became entwined and major infrastructure needs remained unfunded for many years. Several forward-thinking legislators remedied the situation this session by separating the two arguments and creating a lasting infrastructure framework, based on sound fiscal policy, for funding major projects. No longer will political arguments control the basic fiscal question of what the state can afford to fund in infrastructure needs.

So, congratulations to the legislators who set party politics aside to accomplish significant and lasting policy solutions for the citizens of our great state!

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Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, represents House District 87 in the Montana Legislature. She is chair of the House Appropriations Committee. 

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