- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Lawmakers have moved to help fund an effort to prevent child abuse by taking money from the governor’s office budget.

House Bill 305, introduced on behalf of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, had sought $3 million in state aid to fund increased efforts to protect children from abuse and neglect.

Republican Rep. Art Wittich conceived an amendment that was passed late Wednesday night to cut $2 million from the request and require $500,000 come from the budget for the governor’s office.

Members of the Republican-led House Human Services Committee, which Wittich chairs, approved the amendment on a party-line vote Wednesday.

Dan Villa, budget director for Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock’s office, said the legislature should be able to fund the program but deliberately complicated the issue.

“They cut services to prevent child abuse and neglect by $2.2 million and they did so by playing political games with the governor’s office,” Villa said. “As grandma would say, if you’re capable of shame, now is the time to be ashamed.”

Wittich said the amendment was made in an effort to get the funding through the Joint Appropriations Committee, which denied the department’s request the last two sessions. Subsequently, the governor’s office used discretionary funds to fill the gap.

“Since it was testified that they funded it in the last two years through the governor’s office, we felt like at least a portion of it should continue there,” Wittich said.

The governor’s office pledged to fund the program one way or another.

The department of human services’ Child and Family Services Division caseload has increased by 30 percent since 2009.

A second component to the department’s legislative request is likely dead. The House Judiciary Committee tabled House Bill 309 Wednesday. It would have had Montana adhere to a federal requirement that the state establish a child abuse and neglect review commission. Without that compliance, Villa said the department is at risk of losing $212,000 in federal funding.

House Bill 305 faces a vote on the House floor before moving on to the Joint Appropriations Committee.

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