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Gov.  Steve Bullock signs House Bill 282, which criminalizes sexual relationships between students and staff at private residential treatment programs, as primary sponsor Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, left, looks on at the Montana Capitol in Helena on Thursday morning.

Last week Gov. Steve Bullock signed a new state law to exempt the oldest and least-valuable mobile homes in Montana from annual property taxes. It was only one of several notable outcomes that resulted from dedicated journalism by Missoulian reporters.

A year ago, a Missoulian news story shared the plight of mobile home owners who faced the loss of their homes over tax bills of as little as $75. In response, Missoula resident Svein Newman launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to immediately save 31 homes from the auction block, and began working with Missoula County Treasurer Tyler Gernant on legislation, sponsored in the 2019 Legislature by Sen. Margie MacDonald of Billings, that would save even more homes.

After all, it makes little sense to spend hundreds of dollars in public money to collect on a bill for a fraction of that amount. But while the public cost of exempting these homes is minimal, the benefits to homeowners is massive. The new law is expected to help the residents of more than 22,000 mobile homes in Montana, including 2,170 in Missoula.

For their work on this issue, Newman, Gernant and MacDonald certainly deserve a lifetime’s supply of gratitude – as does Missoulian reporter David Erickson for his thorough, ongoing news coverage. As Newman so ably articulated in Erickson’s most recent mobile home story, “one of the big values of local reporting is connecting a community to stories and needs that it may not otherwise see, and sparking and facilitating dialogues about solutions. While (the new legislation) feels like a common-sense idea, I suspect it's one that may never have come forward were it not for local storytelling.”

The same sentiment was echoed in last Sunday’s guest column from Missoula Sen. Diane Sands and Rep. Zac Perry of Hungry Horse, who wrote to recognize the direct influence of shared stories on another important bill signed into law last week. The Missoulian series titled “Troubled kids, troubled system,” launched earlier this year, was the result of a year’s worth of investigation into private alternative adolescent residential outdoor programs by reporters Lucy Tompkins, Cameron Evans and Seaborn Larson, with photographer Tommy Martino.

The series brought statewide attention to some of the persistent problems at these programs and helped shine a light on attempts to resolve them in the Legislature. Thanks to these stories, and heartbreaking testimony from former students, Sands’ bill to transfer oversight of these programs to a more suitable state agency was passed, as was a bill that makes it illegal for program staff to have sex with youth in their care. They have all earned a round of congratulations for making Montana a safer place for vulnerable children.

As if that wasn’t enough, on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the Missoulian announced that reporter Rob Chaney is one of a select few – and an even smaller number of journalists from Montana – to be named a Nieman fellow by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Later this year, he will join 26 other fellows in the 2020 class for two semesters of focused study on environmental attitudes in rural and urban communities. With three decades of daily reporting under his belt, augmented by international stints in Brazil, China and Nepal, and award-winning reporting on national issues, Chaney’s latest project promises to bring even more insightful, relevant, world-class coverage directly to Missoulian readers.

As elated as we are to share these achievements, we at the Missoulian must admit that we are equally proud of the hard work done by all our local journalists every day.

And we are grateful to our readers for supporting local journalism.

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