The Billings Outpost

Lawmakers debate mental health crisis

By MICHAEL WRIGHT - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Nobody argues that investment in Montana’s mental health care system is needed, but exactly how and where is turning into one of the longest and most complicated debates of the Legislative session.

State officials and lawmakers have said that state institutions – like the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs – are overcrowded and need help. But they’ve also said more community-based services should be available throughout the state. These would be places that can offer mental health evaluations, care for someone having a psychotic episode or places to house mentally ill, small-time criminals.

Expansion measures for both have been proposed, but some lawmakers and mental health advocates are staunchly opposed to any expansion of the state institutions.

“We should be looking at alternatives to expanding institutions,” said Kathy McGowan, who represents the Montana Community Mental Health Centers.

Rep. Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton, has emerged as the Republican leader on mental health policy. He served on the interim committee tasked with finding solutions to what many are calling a “mental health crisis” in the state. Five bills that came out of the interim committee have been endorsed by the Montana House so far.

‘Guilty but mentally ill’

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:40

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Keeping sage grouse alive

By MICHAEL WRIGHT - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

The fragile sage grouse has aroused concerns of both parties.A chicken-sized bird has gotten energy industry advocates and conservationists, Republicans and Democrats working together to prevent it from becoming the next native Montana species listed as endangered or threatened: the sage grouse.

“This isn’t a political winner for any politician,” said Sen. Brad Hamlett, D-Cascade. “You’re tasked with the responsibility of looking out for the best interests of the state.”

In this case, that means balancing energy interests and conservation to keep the vulnerable aviary species under state control.

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 February 2015 14:12

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Who pays for school choice?

By MICHAEL WRIGHT - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, sat in his office recently and talked about why he supports school choice, a nationwide movement to increase access to charter and private schools.

“I’m of the belief that the child’s education isn’t the responsibility of the state,” he said. “It’s the parent.”

Sales’ belief underscores most education debates – who’s in control, who’s responsible. Montana Republican legislators have bills both introduced and still being drafted aimed at giving parents more options and eliminating the national Common Core standards, which have been adopted by most states in the country.

These debates percolate each legislative session – to no surprise.

“There are certain topics that never go away up here,” said Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad.

The debate over choice

State-funded school choice started gaining traction across the country in the ’90s, championed by the likes of 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. In Montana, the Montana Family Foundation leads the push. 

Bowen Greenwood, the communications director for Montana Family Foundation, said the goal isn’t to eliminate public schools, but to give parents more options. 

“Montana public schools do very well for many students,” Greenwood said, but “there are kids who don’t thrive. There are kids who drop out. Sometimes what a student needs is a different environment.”

Opponents say it’s not the state’s responsibility to help parents pay for private schools, and that it would hurt the budgets of public school districts around the state.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 16:36

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‘Art saved my life,’ Ben Steele says

Ben Steele
By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

“We weren’t heroes. We lost,” said Ben Steele, via KTVQ, seated in a wheelchair in the center of a group of World War II veterans in front of their memorial in Washington D.C.

Mr. Steele was referring to the Bataan death march and his years of captivity as a Japanese prisoner of war. There was nothing glorious about that experience.

“You either died fighting or were taken prisoner,” he says now. “It was starvation that got us. We starved to death. I had beriberi and malaria. We had a 67 percent casualty rate in our unit, from 363 to 121.

“Art saved my life,” he continued. “It gave me something to think about.” He drew sketches of fellow prisoners and guards using whatever paper and pencil he could find.

None of that material survived, but Mr. Steele has recreated that work in both oils and sketches.

Those reproductions from memory, in pen and ink and well as oils, helped him externalize the horror he had endured. Back then it was called battle fatigue. Now it’s called post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 February 2015 17:20

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