AG candidate outlines substance use, crime reduction plan

The Billings Gazette

October 8, 2020

The Democratic candidate for attorney general said the state’s next top cop needs to focus more on addiction and mental health services as an inroad to crime, while his Republican opponent said that’s not the right starting point.

Under the law, the federal government pays for 90% of the cost of Medicaid Expansion, starting in 2020 and into the future. Approximately 90,000 Montanans are covered by Medicaid Expansion.

Graybill has highlighted Knudsen’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which includes Medicaid Expansion. Knudsen has said the law, also known as "Obamacare," limited health care options and led to higher premiums.

“Anyone who tells you they’re going to fix the meth problem and get rid of the health care law is delusional,” Graybill said. “That doesn’t work.”

Providers like Rimrock CEO Lenette Kosovich have touted the law's importance, saying: "There is no viable solution to address the mental health and substance use crisis in our state without Medicaid expansion."

Graybill said that if elected, “on day one” he’d take his argument to the U.S. Supreme Court on how a repeal of the law would impact Montana. The challenge to the law, brought by Republican attorneys general, is set to be heard in November and decided in June.

“The power of advocacy on the wrong side got us to where we are, and it will be the power of advocacy on the right side that stops this lawsuit,” Graybill said.

Graybill’s plan calls for maintaining or increasing funding for prevention programs throughout the state using grants, settlement money and budget requests to the Legislature. He would create a state-tribal justice council to find solutions to the problem of disproportionate representation of Native Americans in Montana’s criminal justice system. He said he’d partner with the existing State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee, but that the new proposed group was needed to convene stakeholders beyond state lawmakers, and to zero in on criminal justice issues in particular.

The plan also promotes de-escalation techniques and training at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy “that allow law enforcement officers to interact effectively, and safely, with non-violent offenders.”

Graybill has touted his time as an auxiliary police officer in New York City while in college.

In a call Wednesday afternoon, Knudsen said he agreed that limited treatment options were a problem but said his opponent was taking the wrong approach.

"We’re not going to fix that by doing outreach and practicing de-escalation techniques," Knudsen said.

Knudsen agreed that treatment options, including drug courts, needed to “be part of the conversation here as we’re moving forward with the drug problem.” He’s said the lack of local treatment options in rural Montana is expensive for counties when a deputy has to drive someone across the state to Warm Springs for court-ordered treatment. He said more public-private partnerships to expand treatment options would help.

Knudsen called Graybill's plan "platitudes from a naïve lawyer who’s never dealt with this area of law at all."

Instead, Knudsen said what’s needed is more resources for local law enforcement agencies. He noted there are “a lot of part-time county attorneys still with no staff, and they’re running a law practice on the side to make a living.”

Knudsen has said the Department of Justice budget has grown too much in recent years and spending at the department needed to be scaled back.

Knudsen said illegal drugs and crime were a priority.

“And the only way we’re going to tackle that is with more law enforcement,” he said.