Last Best Blog

This is the weblog page of Last Best News. Here you will find some news, perhaps, but also lots of commentary, opinion and satire. Just so you know.

Recent Posts

Legislative Update: Friday, Jan. 20

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Guardianship bill gets a hearing
By Freddy Monares
Republican Sen. Roger Webb is sponsoring a bill that would pave the way for an organization like the Chicago-based Safe Families for Children to set up a network in Montana of volunteer host families where distressed parents could place their children. “Safe Families is a loving, non-judgmental safety net parents can rely on for help, advice, support, without the fear of losing custody of their children,” Webb said. Senate Bill 117 would make it possible for Montana parents to give up guardianship temporarily. Shannon McDonald, deputy chief counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in opposition to the bill. “The bill itself contains no protections for children,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, Jan. 19

Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell speaks Thursday during a committee hearing on her bill that would raise taxes on new gas and oil wells.

Higher taxes on gas, oil wells sought
By Freddy Monares
Lawmakers in Helena are considering a bill that would put money back into the state’s main revenue fund by increasing taxes on new oil and gas wells. House Bill 215 would remove what is called a tax holiday, which is a tax incentive for oil and gas companies during the first year of production. “I consider this low-hanging fruit,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena. The bill estimates that the measure would bring more than $600,000 into the state’s general fund over the next four years. But Montana Petroleum Association lobbyist Jessica Sena had this caution: “Certainly prices may increase, we may be able to attract new investment back into Montana, but I would say that that’s a gamble to bet any increase on your general fund monies on these hypothetical situations.” Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Wednesday, Jan. 18

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Bed-tax diversion draws opposition
By Freddy Monares
A bill that would divert the state’s bed tax money to create a tourism and trade center in Canada is riling filmmakers. That’s because Senate Bill 75 would also cut the budget for promoting filmmaking in Montana from $1.1 million to about $200,000. Sean Becker, the administrator of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development, said, “The Department of Commerce is mandated, and I quote, ‘to use bed tax collections for tourism, promotion, promotion of the state as a location for the production of motion pictures and television commercials.’”

Montana Outfitters and Guides spokesperson Jean Johnson was the only supporter of the bill. “We think that $200,000 is not a big price to pay for a Canadian presence and all that it can lead to,” Johnson said. Rep. Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point, said she has a bill in the hopper that would provide a tax incentive for filming in Montana. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Tuesday, Jan. 17

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Bill would ban energy drinks from SNAP purchases
By Cole Grant
Montanans who get get government help buying food won’t be able to use benefits to buy energy drinks if House Bill 153 passes the Montana Legislature. Rep. Vince Ricci, R-Laurel, explained his interpretation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP: “It is designed to stretch your food budget and buy healthy food. So my reason for bringing this bill is I don’t see energy drinks as being a healthy food.”

Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings opposes the bill. “I just think that really, the point of this legislation is to have the conversation, and to plant that idea in people’s minds that poor people don’t have good discretion, that they’re not responsible for making good choices with their money,” she said. “It’s vilification of the poor.”

The House Human Services Committee will hear HB 153 Wednesday afternoon. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, Jan. 16

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Minimum-wage increase debated
By Freddy Monares
Lawmakers in Helena are trying to figure out how much the cost of a hamburger would go up if they raised the state’s minimum wage. House Bill 169 would raise the minimum wage to a little more than $10 an hour, almost $2 more than the current level. That has some small-business owners worried. Bennington Ward is the owner of the Golden Harvest Café in Dutton. He says an increase in the minimum wage would also increase overhead costs for business owners. Continue Reading →

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Legislative update: Thursday, Jan. 12

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Seat-belt law gets a hearing
By Cole Grant
Senate Bill 9 would create a primary seat belt law in Montana. That means authorities would be able to pull someone over solely for not wearing a seatbelt.

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, is carrying the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard the bill Thursday morning. “With primary enforcement, more Montanans will use seat belts, and fewer Montanans will die, or be seriously injured on our roads,” Barrett said. “That is what the statistics tell us.”

An opponent of the bill, Mark French, thinks Americans should have the freedom to make the choice themselves. Continue Reading →

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Legislative update: Wednesday, Jan. 11

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Bill would ban sales of culturally significant Indian artifacts
By Cole Grant
Representative George Kipp III of Heart Butte wants Montana to ban the sale of culturally significant Native American objects. House Bill 114, which Kipp is carrying, would do just that. “It does not say you can’t make them, hang them on your wall if you’re an artist,” Kipp said. “But when you got to try to sell them, it’ll discourage you from doing that.”

Kipp wants the same respect given to endangered species to be given to these objects. He uses the example of getting caught trying to sell a ceremonial pipe that has eagle feathers on it. “And they’ll say, ‘Oh, you got four eagle feathers on this pipe. Continue Reading →

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Legislative update: Tuesday, Jan. 10

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Chemical dependency treatment examined
By Freddy Monares
The Department of Health and Human Services is challenging a 40-year-old statute that it said creates a government-established monopoly when it comes to chemical dependency treatment. Right now, state law provides funding for only one treatment facility and services for a set area. House Bill 95 would allow the department to implement more facilities and programs as they see fit for specific areas. But Mona Jameson, a representative for Boyd Andrew Chemical Dependency Treatment Programs in Helena, said duplicating services would strain treatment facilities. “You end up diluting the availability of even your counselors—of your licensed chemical dependency counselors—to even provide the treatment,” Jameson said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative update: Monday, Jan. 9

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Uncertainty on Medicaid
By Cole Grant
With all the uncertainty surrounding the federal Affordable Care Act, the future of Medicaid in Montana is shaping up to be a key topic this legislative session. At an initial budget hearing Monday morning at the Capitol, Montana State Medicaid Director Mary Dalton gave lawmakers an overview, saying Medicaid’s goal is to ensure all eligible Montanans have vital care available within available funds. “We always look for the way to spend the least amount of state general fund or state special revenue funds, and the most federal funds.”

In Montana, for every 35 cents the state receives, the federal government rounds it up to a full Medicaid dollar. Dalton urged lawmakers to be cautious about cutting optional services, like physical or speech therapy, because, she says, “You are disproportionately affecting people that have disabilities.”

This session, lawmakers are facing a tight budget. Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. Continue Reading →

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