- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Billings Gazette, Oct. 11, on health coverage for 30,000 Montana kids:

More than 30,000 Montana children’s health coverage will end early next year - unless Congress acts in its few “work” days between its Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, expired Sept. 30 with the House and Senate failing to reauthorize a program that has been a tremendous success for the past 20 years. Coverage is at risk of lapsing for 8.9 million U.S. kids.

Montana CHIP provides Medicaid coverage for some children whose family income is slightly above poverty level. It also funds a non-Medicaid, privately administered, low-cost insurance program for Montana kids whose families earn too much for Medicaid, but too little to afford children’s health insurance in the private market.

About 93,000 other Montana children are covered by traditional Medicaid because their family income is at or below poverty. Half of all Montana children with disabilities are covered by Medicaid. All of the 3,200-plus Montana kids in the foster care system are covered by Medicaid. Altogether, traditional Medicaid, CHIP Medicaid and non-Medicaid CHIP cover about 123,000 Montana children, according to the Montana Budget and Policy Center.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation to continue CHIP for America’s children under terms that Montana and other states support. However, congressional leaders have been so preoccupied with killing the Affordable Care Act, that they ignored the CHIP expiration date of Sept. 30.

Fortunately for 30,000 kids, the state of Montana has sufficient funds to keep its CHIP program going until January or February. Ten other states, including Utah, report they will have to end the program in November or December - unless Congress reauthorizes it sooner.

Children of lower-middle-income families - working families in all 50 states - are in limbo. CHIP reauthorization should pass, it should’ve already been done. If a strong majority of Republicans and Democrats can’t get a broadly popular, children’s health program renewed on time, what real hope is there for the more complex and controversial legislation that politicians seem to spend all their time debating?

“There’s no assurance we extend this program because it’s not done until it’s done,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told a Gazette reporter last week. “It could happen in October, but more likely it’ll happen in November or December or maybe the first half of next year. The crystal ball is very cloudy about when it could happen on this one because it should have already been done.”

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, called the program critical for Montana last week and added: “I am confident this will get done soon.”

Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, also told a Gazette reporter that “the program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and I expect Congress will reauthorize CHIP soon.”

That was last week, gentlemen, and Congress is on vacation this week. For the sake of your youngest constituents, move CHIP to the front burner. Light a fire under your House and Senate leadership to treat our children’s health with the urgency deserved. Get the job done before the next congressional recess.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2g0n7cj

___

Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Oct. 10, on Montana State University being saluted for its work, emphasis on research:

Montana State University’s physics department earned considerable prestige last week when it was announced that the Nobel Prize was awarded to a trio of scientists for their work that proves the existence of gravitational waves.

The three scientists named as principal winners hail from MIT and Cal Tech, but they acknowledge their work would not have been possible without the help of another 1,000 scientists and science students. Among them were MSU astrophysicist Neil Cornish and his students. They helped in a September 2015 grand-scale, transcontinental experiment that detected gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes a billion years ago.

Einstein predicted the wave properties of gravity in 1916 but his theory remained unproven until the results of this experiment. The teams of scientists are continuing their work making their detection equipment even more sensitive in order to learn more about the wave properties of gravity.

As with past scientific breakthroughs, the benefits of this knowledge will not be known until it can be applied to new technology - maybe years from now.

The achievement comes in an era of increasing skepticism about the value of scientific knowledge and the motives of those who seek it - this despite the fact that all advancements of modern civilization have come through science, from cutting-edge health care and electronics to space travel and critical increases agricultural production.

And the participation of MSU faculty and students underscores the importance of research to MSU’s overall mission of education and discovery. It’s encouraging that the MSU administration has made it a priority to emphasize the importance of research. Administrators are investing more than $1 million in efforts to recruit more graduate students - particularly in the science and technology fields.

MSU recently lost its status as a top-tier research university in the Carnegie Institute rankings. A lack of graduate degree awards was cited as a reason. Earning back the top-tier designation is crucial to MSU’s faculty and grad student recruitment efforts.

MSU physicists and students are congratulated on their participation in the gravitational wave Nobel Prize work. May continued emphasis on research and graduate education lead to more such achievements in the future.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2yFZf9i

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Missoulian, Oct. 8, on Montana needing to take steps to prevent shootings:

The horrific tragedy that happened last week in Las Vegas was only the latest, deadliest mass shooting in America.

Last year, it was 49 people killed in Orlando.

The year before, 14 were killed in San Bernardino.

And in 2012, no less than 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Now the nation is once again reeling after 58 people were murdered and nearly 500 others injured at an outdoor concert by a monster who shot high-powered weapons from a high-rise hotel suite, and whose motives may never be fully understood. Investigators are still working to put together the pieces.

But we needn’t wait to take the next steps to prevent the next tragedy. There is a mountain of evidence - a growing pile of dead bodies - to indicate what action must be taken.

First, members of Congress should be commended for their willingness to discuss the possibility of banning bump stocks. The devices, which allow bullets to be fired rapidly from certain kinds of rifles, essentially turning them into automatic weapons, were found on guns owned by the Las Vegas shooter. This week a relatively surprising number of federal lawmakers, including traditionally pro-gun Republicans and legislators from pro-gun states - such as the U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, John Cornyn of Texas - said they would be willing to consider making it illegal to sell them.

On Thursday, Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced legislation to ban the sale of bump-fire stocks. That same day, the National Rifle Association issued a statement in support of a legal review and “additional regulations” for the devices. The organization already prohibits their use at NRA-supported gun ranges.

As the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives undertakes such a review, Congress should move swiftly to crack down the sale of these devices and any others that make it easy for would-be mass murderers to skirt federal laws. While those bent on killing as many people as possible as quickly as possible may still ultimately find a way around such barriers, we can and should make doing so as difficult as possible.

And this should be the common ground from which we can begin to take additional steps - at both the federal and state level.

About a year ago, Missoula attempted to get its hands around the problem at the local level with a well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective ordinance requiring background checks on most gun sales within city limits. Earlier this year, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox rightly noted that the ordinance violated state law prohibiting the regulation of firearm purchase, sale or transfer by local governments, and overturned it.

Meanwhile, Montana is subjected to foolhardy new attempts to encourage more guns seemingly every legislative session. In the most recent session, for one, self-serving House Bill 280 would have allowed legislators to carry concealed weapons on state property. It was vetoed by the governor, as was HB 246, which directly contradicted federal law in seeking to make it legal to carry firearms on U.S. Postal Service property. HB 385, which would have allowed school employees with concealed weapons permits to carry their firearms at school, merely missed the transmittal deadline.

Laws like these seek to take Montana in the wrong direction on gun safety, even as common-sense bills - like the one sponsored by Missoula’s Rep. Andrea Olsen to provide tax credits for the purchase of gun safes and trigger locks - never make it out of committee.

The evidence shows that mass shootings can happen anywhere, in any state. Only months ago, three people were killed and two were injured in a shooting in Lodge Grass on the Crow Indian Reservation in what authorities believe to be a meth-related crime.

Mass shootings aside, Montana has a relatively high rate of gun ownership and of gun-related deaths, with suicides accounting for the vast majority. Multiple studies have confirmed that keeping guns out of the hands of suicidal individuals is an effective suicide-prevention strategy. Contrary to widespread belief, the majority of suicide attempts are spur-of-the moment, and the longer it takes for a suicidal person to find a lethal method, the less likely it is that the person will follow through. That’s why encouraging gun-owners to keep their firearms safely locked, unloaded, in gun safes whenever they are not in use is part of most state suicide prevention plans, including Montana‘s.

Beyond this obvious precaution, it seems equally obvious that individuals who have recently been convicted of serious violent crimes, and who pose a clear threat to themselves or others, should not be permitted to purchase firearms. The point of conducting background checks is to prevent such individuals from obtaining deadly weapons. Yet these checks are only as good as the information made available within the system, and no good at all for most private sales for which no background check is required.

Attorney General Fox, who leads the Montana Department of Justice, ought to lead the discussion on improving gun safety in our state. As Montana’s chief law enforcement official, he has a duty to champion public safety and protect innocents from preventable gun violence. His office should study the problem as well as possible solutions, and offer suggestions to the 2019 Legislature. Coming from the state’s highest authority on such matters, and Fox being a Republican as well, such suggestions will hopefully be accepted by even Montana’s most conservative legislators.

If not, they had better be prepared to substitute their own substantive solutions. We must not wait until the next suicide, the next domestic homicide and yes, the next mass shooting, to do what we can to stop it.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2g1qxva


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