Billings Gazette, Sept. 3, on #MeToo spurring Montana lawmakers to action:

The 2019 Montana Legislature will have a stronger, more comprehensive policy to prevent harassment and discrimination — thanks to the work of lawmakers and staff over the interim.

The proposed new policy says in part: "Sexual harassment constitutes discrimination and is illegal under federal and state laws. For the purposes of this policy, sexual harassment may include unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature."

The Legislative Council voted on Aug. 23 to recommend a new policy that spells out a process for reporting, investigating and disciplining legislators and staff. The policy adds gender identity and disabilities to the categories of harassment that are explicitly prohibited. It forbids retaliation against whistleblowers, and it mandates harassment and discrimination prevention training for all legislative staff.

A compromise exempted legislators themselves from the training mandate. However, House Minority Leader Jenny Eck suggested that training should be offered during a floor session so all members could attend.

"There was a unanimous vote and that says a lot as to where we're headed," said Eck, who led the effort to update and strengthen the policy. "I feel like we've come so far."

The policy drafting started late last year despite Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, saying Montana didn't need to change its policy because the legislature had not received any harassment complaints.

After the vote on Aug. 23, Sales told the Associated Press that he still believes sexual harassment isn't a problem in the Montana Legislature, but he voted for the policy anyway after his main concern, the mandatory training requirement for legislators, was dropped.

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, told AP that the training will be emphasized to lawmakers.

The policy still needs to be approved by the joint legislative rules committee and then voted on by the full Legislature after it convenes in January.

"I have no doubt that this basic policy will be the policy of the state Legislature in January," Thomas said.

The Associated Press has reported that 30 state legislatures have taken action to establish or strengthen policies against sexual harassment in the past year. Since the start of 2017, at least 30 state lawmakers have resigned or been kicked out of office and 26 others lost party or committee leadership positions following allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the AP.

About half of the state legislatures across the country have increased their own training about sexual harassment, typically by making it mandatory or providing it more frequently, according to the AP survey. But legislatures in one-fifth of the states still do not require lawmakers to participate in sexual harassment training.

We commend the Legislative Council members — Eck in particular — for moving forward with a proposal to assure that everyone who works for or with the Montana Legislature is treated with respect and dignity. On this holiday when America honors workers, let's also applaud those, including some of our state lawmakers, who are committed to making workplaces safe and free of discrimination.



Montana Standard, Sept. 2, on 6-mill levy being more important than ever:

In 1948, Montanans laid the cornerstone for the higher education system that graces our state — the system that educates more than 32,000 Montanans a year, and provides so much of the workforce we desperately need. They passed a statewide 6-mill levy to help support the university system.

Every 10 years since then, that levy has been reauthorized by voters. Every time, it has been supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. There has never been an increase.

Now, after 70 years, the levy is more than a funding mechanism — it is a proud tradition of a state that cares deeply about higher education.

But given the state's budget situation, there is literally no time when it has been more vital to reauthorize this levy. It brings in about $19 million a year — around 10 percent of the state appropriation to the university system.

For property owners in the state, the levy costs about $1 per month for every $100,000 of their property's market value. That means the owner of a $200,000 house, for instance, is paying about $24 a year for a vital investment in Montana and in higher education.

One of the things the 6-mill levy enables is the excellent affordability for in-state students in the Montana system. At around $7,000 a year for tuition and fees, compared with $24,000 for out-of-state tuition, higher education remains a terrific deal for our in-state students and their families.

If the levy were to be discontinued, in-state tuition would increase an estimated 18 percent and at the same time the quality of education would suffer.

Now, nearly 80 percent of Montana graduates find jobs within a year of graduating. And their work benefits our communities in an enormous variety of ways.

The 6-mill levy has always been a critically important investment in our children and their future, and in the quality of our state. And it is more important than ever this time around.

Please join us in supporting the renewal of the 6-mill levy and help us to continue Montana's tradition of supporting higher education.



Daily Inter Lake, Sept. 2, on Whitefish Energy:

The story of Andy Techmanski and Whitefish Energy has finally been told, and as so often seems to be the case, the true story is nothing like what was reported by the national media in the months following the destruction of the electric power grid in Puerto Rico by two hurricanes that hit the island late last year.

In an exclusive interview with Inter Lake features editor Lynnette Hintze, Techmanski told his own story of coming to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria not just to find work for his small independent company based in Whitefish, but also to give assistance to the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of a devastating storm that crippled the island's economy. Techmanski did everything right, both from a business point of view and from an ethical point of view. He offered a favorable contract to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and then he delivered on it.

Sadly, because of a very tenuous connection to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, reporters latched on to the Whitefish Energy story not as a remarkable tale of what a can-do attitude can accomplish, but rather as something that must be too good to be true. As a result of that early, speculative and mostly misleading reporting, Techmanski ultimately lost the contract he had won fair and square, leaving most of the work to other companies. What we now know, thanks to the hard facts compiled by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority itself, is that Whitefish Energy was far and away the most efficient power contractor on the job, and rather than saving the impoverished island money by canceling the contract, the exact opposite happened.

Whitefish Energy billed $141.1 million to restore five transmission line segments, a job which it completed in remarkably short time — less than 60 days. The other contractors have billed more than $2 billion in total, and have completed only 20 of the 33 transmission line segments that were assigned to them. Sounds like if there are going to be hearings about what went wrong in Puerto Rico, it should be to find out why Whitefish Energy was taken off the job, not why it won the original contract.

What's particularly unseemly is that Whitefish Energy, which stayed on the job for 30 days after its contract was pulled, is still owed more than $100 million for services rendered. Former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan famously quipped "Which office do I go to get my reputation back?" after he was cleared of fraud charges by a jury. Techmanski could ask that same question, with the added query, "And what about my money?" Hopefully, Montana's congressional delegation will look into this case and work to set things right.