Governor Signs Bill to Close Montana Developmental Center

Proponents say years of assault and neglect have left the state with no other option

By Lisa Baumann, Associated Press

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill Wednesday to close the Montana Developmental Center and move most of the 53 people with severe intellectual disabilities, mental health issues and personality disorders to community-based settings in the next two years.

The Democratic governor said in a letter that he has concerns about the bill’s approach to closure but he decided to defer to the Legislature’s decision.

“After years of challenges at MDC and extensive debate, a bipartisan majority of the Legislature has overwhelmingly supported SB 411,” he said. “I am committed to ensuring that the population served at MDC has access to the safest and most effective treatment possible.”

Additionally, Bullock said although the bill calls for closure, he believes the state will still need a facility for those not ready for community-based care, a sentiment that could calm some opponents who feared at least a handful of clients would be left with nowhere to go.

“I also firmly believe that we will continue to need a state-run facility or facilities for those who are not ready for less restrictive, community-based placements,” he said, adding that nothing in the bill precludes the possibility.

Under the bill, people who are not ready for community settings can remain at MDC through the 2017 legislative session. Bullock said a plan must be in place by that time for ongoing secure facilities, whether in Boulder or elsewhere.

Proponents say years of assault and neglect have left the state with no other option than to close the Boulder facility, which employs more than 200 people. Those opposing the closure say it’s premature and that the bill was hustled through the Legislature.

Lawmakers struggled with the decision to close the facility but eventually passed the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mary Caferro, of Helena.

Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT union that represents some MDC employees, said Wednesday that he’s disappointed, sad and even angry about the closure.

“I think it’s a primary government responsibility (to care for this population), and to simply ship it off to the private sector is irresponsible and naive,” Feaver said. “Meanwhile, union jobs go down the tubes.”