Montana lawmakers consider bill to invest $300 million in behavioral health system

HELENA — Montana lawmakers and state agency leaders said Wednesday they have a unique opportunity to invest in Montana’s behavioral health system this year — and it’s time to do it.

As part of his state budget proposal last year, Gov. Greg Gianforte requested $300 million in state funding for behavioral health. Now, lawmakers have introduced House Bill 872, which would create a framework for how that money should be distributed.

“We’re here because we’re fortunate enough to have a large surplus, and we’re going to be able to solve the problems,” said Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, who is sponsoring HB 872. “I see this bill as an opportunity to do that. big thing “

The Parliamentary Appropriations Committee held an initial hearing on the bill on Wednesday morning.

The title of HB 872 states its purpose as supporting “a behavioral health system for future generations.” It allocates $225 million to a new state account that will be used to fund state and community-based programs for people with behavioral health needs or developmental disabilities. Another $75 million will go into the state’s long-term construction fund for future capital projects for the behavioral health system.

Funds from the new state fund can be used to study and plan for a comprehensive behavioral health system, plan and operate state health facilities, purchase or renovate property to establish state facilities, and invest in community providers to stabilize service delivery. workforce and increase service capacity.

“We need to have a public-private partnership,” Keenan said. “That’s how the system will work.”

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HB 872 would establish a commission to make recommendations on how the money should be used. It included four deputies, the director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and two other members appointed by the governor.

“Being on this committee is going to take a lot of time and a lot of work,” Keenan said. “I think it’s worth it. I think Montana is positioned to really make huge strides forward. “

While the commission recommends actions, Gianforte will have the final say on whether to accept those recommendations.

Although HB 872 appropriates $300 million, it only authorizes $70 million to be spent over the next two years. The 2025 Legislature will have an opportunity to consider how to use the rest of the money.

Keenan and DPHHS Director Charlie Bratton told lawmakers the plan is “wide open” at this point and they are carefully considering all options. However, they said there are no plans to close or privatize Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs.

“We continue to make historic investments in existing public health facilities, but we also want to be bold,” Brereton said. “We want to think bigger and bigger in this space with community-based providers.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, some lawmakers questioned why DPHHS didn’t have more details about how the money could be used — especially about potential new facilities.

“I heard you don’t know what you’re building?” asked Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box boss.

“Could the department rush the plan into a proposal and present it to everyone?” We certainly could,” Breton said in response. “But we chose to pause to do this in a thoughtful, data-informed, rational way, with the Legislature, providers and stakeholders.”

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Some advocates also opposed the commission’s form, saying people who have dealt with behavioral health challenges and gone through the current system should be guaranteed a vote.

“Make sure you involve the people who use the system when you’re designing the system — not just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a listening session,’ but make sure we have that seat at the table and we’re part of the decision-making process,” said Joel Peden. , representative of Centers for Independent Living and Disability Rights Montana.

The Parliamentary Appropriations Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

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