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: Wednesday, March 22


Mail-in-ballot bill up for hearing in House
By Freddy Monares
A contentious bill that would allow counties to opt for mail-in ballots for the upcoming special election to fill now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vacated congressional seat is advancing in the Legislature. Senate Bill 305 passed the Senate in February and gets its first hearing in the House on Thursday. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, said mail-in ballots could save counties up to $500,000.  During debate on the bill last month, recorded by the Legislature, he also said the percentage of people voting by mail ballot has skyrocketed. “Most people vote by mail,” he said, “and we don’t have problems with fraud or any of these other things that people think they’re going to get from mail-in ballots.” Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, March 20


Infrastructure projects proposed
By Cole Grant
Lawmakers heard proposals Monday for infrastructure projects across the state, from upgrades to university system buildings to wildlife habitat programs.

House Bill 5 allocates more than $50 million in federal and state money to infrastructure. The largest portion of that money would go to securing land for the Habitat Montana program, which, among other things, encourages wildlife conservation among landowners. Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte, is carrying the bill. “These are the vehicles that actually build things around the state of Montana,” he said. Gov. Steve Bullock’s office proposed the list of projects last November. Continue Reading →

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‘Lyin’ King’ featured at ‘SNL Helena’

With a tempting target in the White House and budget cuts looming, the “Saturday Night Live Helena” show took on added urgency this year. Helena thespians, singers and dancers put the show on every two years when the Montana Legislature is in session. The aim is to battle the perceived failings of state and national politics with one of the oldest of weapons: satire. This year’s show was reeled off in a snappy two hours, and if not every joke worked, no problem; another followed within seconds. Periodic news updates (Grizzly bears are reported fleeing public schools since the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) and parodied beer commercials for Goose Kill and Berkeley Pit IPA help held the disparate parts together. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, March 16


Funding increase for elderly, disabled shot down
By Cole Grant
One of the amendments to the state budget Montana lawmakers shot down Thursday would have given more funding to a program that helps pay for long-term care for low-income seniors and disabled Montanans. Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, chairman of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, said there’s money left over from what was set aside for that program from the last biennium. Cook said the Legislature’s budget proposes about $3 million less to the program than what was spent last biennium. “You look at this $42 million that wasn’t spent, why wasn’t that spent on provider rate increases?” he asked. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Tuesday, March 14

Bill would allow traditional regalia at graduation
By Freddy Monares
Native American communities across Montana are asking the Legislature to make it unlawful to ban traditional regalia, specifically beaded caps, during graduation ceremonies. Senate Bill 319 would allow items with cultural significance to be worn at public events, including public meetings, awards ceremonies and high school or college graduation ceremony. Bill supporter Georgeline Morsette is a senior in high school. “Beaded graduation caps aren’t merely for decoration or to look pretty, but there is great traditional importance to the beaded caps,” Morsette said. Cindy Swank was the only opponent of the bill. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, March 13


Senate blocks bicycle-friendly bill
By Freddy Monares
The Montana Senate blocked a bill that would have required vehicles going 35 mph to give cyclists three feet when passing, and five feet if traveling faster than 35 mph. House Bill 267 failed on a 24-to-26 vote. Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, opposed the bill. He says he does not want any more cyclists in the state and thinks there are too many of them as it is. “They’re some of the rudest people I’ve ever—I hate to say it, but I’m just going to be bold—they’re some of the most self-centered people navigating on highways, or on county roads I’ve ever seen. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Friday, March 10


Budget amendment would raise pay for care providers
By Cole Grant
The Montana House Appropriations Committee is nearly done ironing out amendments to House Bill 2, the main budget bill. Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula proposed an amendment to the Department of Health and Human Services budget Friday that would increase wages for those who work directly with seniors and people with developmental disabilities. “This is costly, I will not deny it,” she said. “But I believe we have a responsibility to every citizen in Montana to find the money to improve the wages of our direct-care workers.”

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, said he appreciated the light the amendment shines on provider rates and direct-care wages. “But to just pull $61 million out of that ending fund balance and then pretend that we have some way to heal that before we get out of here with a budget that’s balanced and acceptable is in a lot of ways erroneous,” he said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, March 9


Bill would refund taxpayers if enrollment projections miss the mark
By Freddy Monares
When schools overestimate the number of students in their district, Montana property taxpayers end up eating that cost. House Bill 390 would return the excess money collected back to taxpayers the following year. Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT teachers union, spoke in favor of the bill. “What it says about overestimating is important, and we certainly don’t want people in any way to think that school districts are trying to scam the system and this addresses that,” Feaver said. The bill also aims to change a $1 million appropriation for school technology grants to be used as matching funds for a federal program to provide schools with internet access. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Wednesday, March 8


Cuts to health and human services at issue
By Cole Grant
Montana Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan is cautioning lawmakers about what decreasing funding to her department might mean for Montanans. “The budget will dramatically impair the services we provide to seniors, and those with disabilities in Montana, and compromise our ability to serve Montana’s most vulnerable community members,” she said. The governor’s office says the Legislature’s current budget proposes about $93 million less than its proposal for the agency. Nancy Ballance, of Hamilton, Republican chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, says it’s important to differentiate between cuts and a reduction of increases in funding. “And while it might be somewhat entertaining to listen to you speak about things that are scaring our seniors and scaring our disabled people, that is not what this department has done, and that is not what we intend to do,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Expert’s opinion on Zinke’s equine skills: He’s a dude


I don’t know the first thing about riding a horse, but Brenda Wahler evidently does, and she was not impressed with Ryan Zinke’s horsemanship. I had never heard of Wahler until today, but she is, according to her blog, an attorney and equine consultant who lives in Helena. In a blog post published on Sunday, Wahler closely analyzed several photos of Zinke riding a horse to his first day on the job as the new Interior secretary. The whole thing is worth reading—including the conclusion, where she also analyzes a photo of Zinke out fly-fishing—but here’s the gist of her argument:

“Being a Montanan doesn’t always mean you are born on horseback, and Zinke is a self-admitted son of a plumber. I don’t expect championship equitation from a casual outdoorsman, but Zinke looks like the guy who hires an outfitter once a year to take him into the mountains. More to the point, the guy who is packed onto the biggest, most unflappable horse in the string is the dude who doesn’t know which end to face, won’t take advice, and needs a horse who is wiser than the passenger.” Continue Reading →

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