Huckleberry “I voted” stickers to those who cast a ballot in Tuesday’s primary election and helped Montana log its highest voter turnout rate in 24 years. More than 41 percent of registered voters in Montana cast a ballot, making for the highest midterm primary turnout since June 1994. According to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, 281,412 ballots were returned out of 679,231 registered voters. Little Liberty County had the highest turnout rate, at an astounding 74.4 percent. Turnout in Missoula County neared a respectable 36 percent, with 29,192 ballots turned in out of 81,543 registered voters.
Chokecherry buzz-cuts to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists for proposing a rule change that would ban dogs — and other pets, including even fish — from barbershops and salons. The board’s official reasoning is that “having animals in salons, shops and schools poses sanitation and safety concerns.” The board did not provide any evidence of complaints or incidents in which customers were sickened or injured by animals in a barbershop. They did, however, get an earful from a handful of business owners who report that customers love their pets and having them in the shop is good for business.
Healing huckleberries to promising signs that the nation’s opioid epidemic may be on the decline, including here in Montana. The American Medical Association’s most recent report shows that opioid prescriptions declined for the fifth consecutive year while the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs continues to increase. Meanwhile, more physicians are receiving training in pain management and substance use disorders, leading to a corresponding rise in the number of physicians certified to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid abuse. In Montana, the total number of opioid prescriptions has fallen by nearly 23 percent from 2013 to 2017, and in 2017 alone, nearly 4,000 Montana physicians accessed state prescription databases to catch potential abuses.
Apologetic chokecherries to the steel and aluminum tariffs that went into effect June 1. The 25 percent tariff on steel and the 10 percent tariff on aluminum apply to imports from Mexico, the European Union and, most central to Montanans’ concerns, Canada — the state’s largest trading partner, with an estimated $670 million exported to destinations north of the border last year. In an official statement from the Canadian Foreign Policy and Diplomacy Services, the new tariffs were described as “absolutely unacceptable”; they will be countered with dollar-for-dollar tariffs on American steel and aluminum, among other products. These counter-tariffs will take effect July 1, and are expected to result in an immediate hit to Montana manufacturers of about $6 million, according to Canadian calculations.
Huckleberry housewarming baskets to the welcome new developments in local housing projects. This week, Missoula County announced that it is partnering with the District XI Human Resource Council on a pilot program to help people find housing after they have been incarcerated. The Montana Board of Crime Control kicked in $153,000 through a competitive grant process that will also provide funding to two other Montana communities, and its staff will work closely with local stakeholders throughout the 15-month project. According to Missoula County, Missoula has the second-largest population of homeless people in the state and the second-highest number of people under supervision by the Department of Corrections.
Also this week, Missoulians learned that a nonprofit that serves Montana and Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington is expanding its HomeNow program to help potential homebuyers secure housing. The program, offered by MoFi, provides grants of up to 5 percent of the total loan amount to qualifying buyers, and is expanding to offer 0 percent interest and deferred down payment loans. Further, it has funding dedicated specifically for the purchase of double-wide manufactured homes.
Capping off the good housing news this week, the Montana Department of Commerce’s Board of Housing announced that Missoula’s Skyview 9 project is among the eight developments in Montana that will have the opportunity to submit a full application for federal housing tax credits. More than $31 million will be awarded in November to up to six developers, with the expectation that the projects will break ground in early 2019. The other seven projects are located in Absarokee, Billings, Browning, Havre, Helena, Ronan and Whitefish. They were selected from a total of 17 housing developers in 15 different communities who requested funding aid to build more than 700 affordable homes.