- Associated Press - Friday, April 17, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The state House reversed course on Friday and passed a bill to close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder after voting against it Thursday.

Representatives endorsed Senate Bill 411 as amended on Friday by a vote of 61-39 with 46 Republicans and 15 Democrats voting in favor.

The bill faces a third-reading vote next and if passed through the House would go back to the Senate for approval of amendments.

Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance of Hamilton brought amendments that made the bill more palatable for some lawmakers. The changes included giving more time to transition residents before closure and adding another client family member to the transition planning committee.

Lawmakers said the bill might incur further changes if it advances.



Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City, whose district includes Boulder, reiterated his stance against the closure.

“It creates a mad scramble to move clients out,” he said. “Will there be setbacks in (clients’) current progress? There are concerns.”

Under the measure, the facility would close and about 50 people with severe intellectual disabilities, mental health issues, personality disorders and other problems would be transferred to community-based settings by July 2017.

The facility should stay open for now, according to Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula, because it serves a certain population that nobody wants.

“Really bad things, unexplainable things, have happened at MDC but to close down a facility that is still serving people, I think it’s irresponsible,” she said referring to incidents of abuse at the center.

Carrying the bill for Democratic Sen. Mary Caferro of Helena, Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, said Thursday that 74 incidents of abuse have occurred in the past 15 months as substantiated by the Montana Department of Justice. The reported abuse includes assaults on residents, including sexual assaults, and neglect.

“What level of abuse and neglect do we have to get to before we decide enough is enough,” Rep. Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton, asked lawmakers.

Rep. Mark Noland said he had a family member living at the center until last month and he wants to see the facility closed.

“There are 22 vacant positions right now,” the Republican of Bigfork said of staffing. “It’s not being run in the appropriate manner. Vote for this bill.”

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