Montana Editorial Roundup
Posted September 27
Billings Gazette, Sept. 24, on the plain meaning of Montana bathroom initiative:
The Montana Supreme Court's order to revise a bathroom initiative's language provides good information for voters.
In an order signed by all seven justices last week, the court ruled that the fiscal note for Initiative 138 and the proposed ballot language failed to follow Montana law that requires these statements to: "express the true and impartial explanation of the proposed issue in plain, easily understood language and not . written as to create prejudice for or against the issue." Attorney General Tim Fox is now responsible for revising the ballot statement and fiscal note.
The court order makes five major points that Montana voters should consider if they are asked to sign petitions to place I-138 on the November 2018 ballot:
1. The original ballot statement "fails to present the initiative's specific definition of 'sex' as 'a person's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.' "
2. The original ballot statement "fails entirely to disclose that the initiative applies to the various forms of local government and to public institutions of higher education."
3. The ballot statement "is inaccurate in that it would lead voters to believe that the initiative only applies to one 'protected facility' (changing room, locker room, restroom or shower room) at any government building, rather than all of them as the text of the initiative requires."
4. "The language used in the ballot initiative obscures the important fact that Section 5 (3) of the initiative allows any person to bring a civil action for damages — including emotional and mental distress, reasonable attorney fees and costs and 'other relief' — against the 'governmental entity' that controls the facility. The ballot statement does not clearly inform the reader that the initiative authorizes people to sue government entities and to recover monetary damages for violations of the initiative's provisions."
5. The fiscal note prepared by the attorney general does not include all costs of implementing the initiative as determined by the state budget office. "Long-term costs and costs to local government, K-12 and college-level educational facilities and legal fees are uncertain and not included. The fiscal note should reflect that. According to the budget office, costs for the Montana University System alone could exceed $250 million per year."
By law, the ballot statement for an initiative is limited to 135 words, even though I-138 itself is about four pages long. In 123 words, Justice Beth Baker provided an example of a ballot language rewrite that complies with the standard required by Montana law:
This measure requires all state and local government entities, including schools and universities, to designate "protected facilities" in government buildings — such as locker rooms, changing rooms, restrooms and shower rooms — for use by members of only one sex. It defines "sex" as "a person's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth." A person may not use protected facilities that are not designated for that person's sex. The government may provide an accommodation, such as single occupancy facilities, for special circumstances, upon request. The measure requires the government to "ensure that each protected facility provides privacy from persons of the opposite sex." It authorizes people to sue governmental entities and recover monetary damages for violations.
Key words are still missing: This initiative discriminates against people who are transgender.
Voters also must have a fiscal note disclosing that the Montana University System's estimated expense of compliance with Initiative 138 has been estimated to be $250 million in one year; that the state would have signage and renovation compliance costs estimated at $245,699; and that there would be costs to public K-12 school districts, cities, counties and other local government entities that haven't been calculated.
The cost of discrimination in Montana would be high.
Missoulian, Sept. 24, on Zinke's monuments proposals:
Ryan Zinke's rocky career as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior took a nosedive last week with the release of a leaked document showing some startlingly sloppy work on national monument review.
Given that this review has been one of Zinke's most important tasks to date as Interior secretary, he is fast heading for a failing grade if he does not improve his performance immediately.
It's not enough to throw the occasional bone to Montanans who desperately want to keep our treasured public lands protected. Zinke has to do a better job of grounding his decisions on solid, factual information; communicating that information and his reasoning to the public; and maintaining transparency throughout the process.
So far, however, Zinke has set a troubling pattern of opacity, poor communication and flimsy fact-checking. The leaked draft of his report to President Trump on national monuments is only the latest, most alarming example of this trend.
Shortly after Zinke was confirmed as Interior secretary, the Trump administration directed him to undertake a review of large-scale national monuments that had been designated or expanded within the past 20 years. Zinke focused on 27 designations in particular, five of which are marine monuments. One of them was Montana's Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument, which has since been removed from the list of designations under review, to the relief of many.
From the start, Zinke pledged to ensure public involvement and transparency throughout the review process. Yet also from the start, he sent conflicting signals hinting that the reduction of at least some monuments was a foregone conclusion.
The biggest hint was the drastically shortened timeframe for a decision on the Bears Ears national monument in Utah. This particular monument, designated during the final days of the Obama administration, was allowed only a 15-day public comment period, while the other monuments were allowed 60 days to gather public comment.
And despite the overwhelming number of comments in favor of maintaining the Bears Ears designation as is, it nevertheless comes as no surprise that Zinke is recommending the monument be reduced in size. The leaked report shows that the Interior Department is recommending reductions or changes to 10 national monuments.
The surprising thing was that the report also includes a short list of new monument recommendations, including the Badger-Two Medicine area in Northwest Montana. Granted, the report is only a draft and presumably not ready for official release.
Yet its contents, and the fact that it was released on the same day as an official, frustratingly vague public report, shows that something other than facts or public preference is driving Zinke's decisions.
The leaked report goes into much more detail on the department's concerns with 10 national monuments, including Bears Ears, four of which cover large land areas in Western states and three of which were created or expanded by President Obama.
Near the end of the 19-page document, Zinke also suggests that Trump consider designating three new monuments: a Union training center for African-American soldiers in the Civil War in Kentucky, the home of assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine in Northwest Montana.
The Badger-Two Medicine near Glacier National Park is absolutely deserving of protections. Many, most notably the Blackfeet Tribe, have been working hard for years to cancel energy leases in the region, which is considered sacred to the tribe and prized for its special ecological attributes.
In fact, last year former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell exercised her authority to cancel remaining leases, although two leaseholders are fighting that decision in court.
The reason these new monument recommendations came as such a surprise is because they appear to come out of nowhere. Designate the Badger-Two Medicine a national monument? Whose idea was this? Did someone request that Zinke consider it? Will there be opportunities for public comment? When will Montanans get to weigh in?
Zinke's office isn't saying, instead directing "all questions regarding the document" to the White House.
If the current administration justified the call for national monument review by stating that previous administrations did not offer sufficient opportunity for public involvement, or were rushed, then this memo would seem to invalidate that argument.
Worse, the document appears to contain a number of significant errors. New Mexico's Sen. Mark Heinrich, whose state is home to two national monuments identified in the memo, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that the memo falsely claims that roads were closed, hunting and fishing access was limited and ranching was stopped due to national monument designation. It also incorrectly asserts that one national monument falls along the Mexican border.
Heinrich questioned the Bureau of Land Management's John Ruhs, who told the committee that his office was not involved in the memo's preparation and was not given the opportunity to fact-check it.
Perhaps such basic errors could be excused if the report contained any concrete information on just what, exactly, Zinke is recommending. Neither the public report nor the leaked memo contain specific boundary readjustment suggestions, maps or anything else that might be used to determine what might actually change as a result of this months-long national monument review.
Instead, they draw broad strokes that only serve to paint an open door for timber, grazing, coal and oil industry interests.
If Zinke intends for his review to accomplish anything more than that, then he has a lot of explaining to do.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Sept. 24, on the need for a special session to solve budget crisis:
Thanks to unanticipated drops in income and energy tax collections and bills from the worst wildfire season in years, the state budget is coming up short to the tune of more than $220 million. Unlike the federal government, the state can't just borrow money to make up the shortfall. There will have to be spending cuts or tax increases — or some combination of the two.
Make no mistake. This is a big deal. The governor's budget director has outlined recommendations for cutting the entire deficit out of the budget. And the cuts will cause real pain for those who benefit from state programs. Because they are so dependent on the state's general fund, the biggest cuts will come from the state departments of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and Corrections and from education spending.
Cutting education spending won't just make the problem go away. It will hand it off to local school districts and their taxpaying constituents and to Montana families and students in the form increased tuition at the state's colleges and universities. If all the money cut from the University System were to be made up through tuition, rates would have to increase by some 46 percent.
And DPHHS programs are already cash-strapped. Chronicle reports have documented serious problems with foster care and other programs of last resort for less fortunate children — the most vulnerable among us.
To raise new revenue, Gov. Steve Bullock will have to call the Legislature into special session. He is urged to do so. In the past, he has proposed reasonable increases in consumption taxes on tobacco and alcohol as well as the bed tax and car rental taxes. All those have been rejected by lawmakers as well as a proposed increased income tax rate on money earned in excess of $500,000 annually.
Republicans, who have majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have been and continue to be resistant to raising any taxes. But things have changed. And reasonable lawmakers of all stripes need to find their way to compromise.
Balancing the budget with spending cuts alone isn't acceptable. Bullock should call legislators back to Helena to do the job we elected them to do. That includes adequately funding state government in a fair and reasonable way.