Heaps of huckleberries to the Montana legislators who worked long hours and demonstrated a willingness to compromise during the special legislative session this week. Among them, Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, gets a special mention for helping to lead budget discussions; Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, deserves recognition for considering a new tax on nonprofit health insurers despite his otherwise staunch opposition to new taxes; and Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, who carried the main budget proposal, House Bill 2, should get a round of applause for urging her fellow lawmakers to set aside their personal differences, stop trying to assign blame for the state’s problems and work together to overcome them. That spirit allowed the Legislature to negotiate a deal acceptable to both the GOP majority and Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and adjourn the special session without further delay early Thursday morning.
Sour chokecherries to Sen. Albert Olszewski, R-Kalispell, for wasting legislators’ time and taxpayers’ money on a bad bill aimed at making it harder for Montanans to change the gender noted on their birth certificates. The special session was called this week to focus on patching deep holes in the state budget, not to waste time attacking transgender Montanans. Not only was Olszewski’s bill mean-spirited, it was completely off topic and would not have saved the state a dime. Thankfully, House representatives did not act on the measure and it died a well-deserved death.
Belated huckleberries to the University of Montana for making information concerning its prioritization process available to the public this week. The process called for reports used by a task force to rank various programs, however, the reports and the task force’s votes were not made available until after the student newspaper, the Kaimin, and the Missoulian raised complaints about the lack of public access to public documents. This week, the university began posting the information online at umt.edu/apasp/public. Hopefully university officials learned from this process, and will make take pains to plan for transparency before launching any major initiatives in the future.
Undeveloped chokecherries to the Montana Office of Public Instruction for dragging its feet on child sexual abuse prevention. The Montana Legislature approved a law earlier this year during the regular session directing the office to develop a curriculum for schools to equip their students with the knowledge they need to stop abusers. However, the legislation, called Tara’s Law, was approved without funding and without any mandate to require compliance. It’s now up to OPI to make this a priority and take the necessary steps to begin developing a policy. In this, it doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel; 45 other states already have laws regarding teaching childhood sex abuse prevention in public schools.
Thirty five handfuls of huckleberries to Montana’s sister state of Kumamoto in Japan in celebration of 35 years of international camaraderie. This past Tuesday, Gov. Steve Bullock met with Japanese Gov. Ikuo Kabashima and other dignitaries from Kumamoto Prefecture in Helena to mark the 35th anniversary of the year the two governments formed an official sister-state relationship. The day before, these visitors from Japan and members of the Japan Friendship Club met in Missoula thanks to efforts by the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Center and Montana Department of Commerce. The celebrations were meant to highlight the important ongoing relationships between the two governments, with Japan being one of the top trading partners for goods manufactured in Montana, as well as for raw materials like wheat and growing industries like tourism.