Holland & Hart announced that six of the firm’s Billings attorneys have been recognized in the 2021 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America© and three attorneys were named to the inaugural edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch. In addition, W. Scott Mitchell received Best Lawyers “Lawyer of the Year“ recognition in two practice areas in Billings. Only a single lawyer in each practice area and designated market area is honored as the “Lawyer of the Year,” making this accolade particularly significant.

Best Lawyers has published its list for over three decades, earning the respect of the profession, the media, and the public as the most reliable, unbiased source of legal referrals. Lawyers on The Best Lawyers in America list are reviewed by their peers based on professional expertise and undergo an authentication process to make sure they are in good standing. Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recognizes associates and other lawyers who are earlier in their careers for their outstanding professional excellence.

2021 Best Lawyers in Billings:

Shame Coleman: Litigation – ERISA; Litigation – Intellectual Property; Litigation – Patent; Patent Law

Kyle Gray:  Appellate Practice; Insurance Law

Charles Hingle: Banking and Finance Law; Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights / Insolvency and Reorganization Law

William Mercer: Commercial Litigation; Natural Resources Law

W. Scott Mitchell: Commercial Litigation; Employment Law – Management; Litigation – Environmental; Litigation – Insurance; Natural Resources Law; Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants; Product Liability Litigation – Defendants; Workers’ Compensation Law – Employers

Elizabeth A. Nedrow: Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law

2021 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Billings:

Vicki Marquis: Environmental Law

Brianne McClafferty: Commercial Litigation

John Sullivan: Commercial Litigation

From Center Square

States that enforced Certificate of Need (CON) laws during coronavirus shutdowns increased mortality rates for COVID-19 patients and others, a new assessment of state laws has found.

Montana is among about 35 states that still impose CON laws – laws which require some health care facilities to “prove need” before being allowed by the state government to go into business or to expand business, such as adding the number of beds. Part of that consideration involves protecting existing, both public and private, facilities from competition.

An analysis of state laws, published in a new working paper by economists Agnitra Roy Choudhury, Alicia Plemmons and Sriparna Ghosh at the University of Cincinnati, Auburn University, and Southern Illinois University, concludes that CON laws increased mortality rates for COVID-19 patients and others.

In Certificate-of-Need Laws and Healthcare Utilization during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the authors found that in states with high hospital bed utilization, suspending CON laws saved nearly 100 lives for every 100,000 residents for all causes of death. Suspending CON laws saved 40 lives from COVID-19 and 57 lives from natural causes of death.

In states with high intensive care unit bed utilization, suspending CON laws saved 28 lives for every 100,000 residents for all causes of death, saved 11 lives from COVID-19 and 15 lives from natural causes of death, the report says.

“CON laws are legal limitations to the expansion and acquisition of medical services within a state and were not structured in a way to prepare or stockpile medical goods and services to the volume that has been required to meet demand swells during the recent pandemic,” it states.

The analysis primarily focused on mortality caused by COVID and non-COVID related reasons to assess how CON laws affected access to health care for illnesses that might require similar medical equipment.

“Their baseline results suggest that mortality rates are higher in states with CON laws relative to that in states without any CON laws,” the report states. “States with high healthcare utilization due to COVID that reformed their CON laws during the pandemic saw a significant reduction in mortality resulting from natural death, Septicemia, Diabetes, Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease, Influenza or Pneumonia, and Alzheimer’s Disease in addition to reduction in COVID deaths.

“In states with high ICU bed utilization that subsequently reformed their CON laws in order to increase acquisitions of medical equipment, 11 lives per 100,000 residents [were saved] from COVID weekly,” the report states.

By keeping CON laws in place, health care providers were prevented from expanding care options, the report found, including the ability to add beds, ventilators or expand facilities.

Twelve states do not have CON laws; 15 states and the District of Columbia have CON laws in place; 23 states suspended some portion of CON laws or enabled emergency provisions.

Several attempts have been made to pass bills in the Montana State Legislature to eliminate Montana’s cumbersome bureaucracy controlling the emergence of new health care providers or preventing existing ones to expand, but to date they have been unsuccessful. CON laws protect hospital profits, not patients, in a process that can takes months or even years, Moriah Lawrence and Angela Erickson at the Pacific Legal Foundation, argue.

Lawrence and Erickson charge that state bureaucrats “are so concerned with the potential harm to the existing companies’ bottom lines that this process ultimately creates ‘Competitor’s Veto.’” In Montana government- ran medical facilities have exercised that veto to block private sector companies from entering the market. Hundreds of preventable deaths can be traced back to CON laws, well before the coronavirus, according to a 2016 Mercatus Center report. Mercatus published empirical evidence to show how death rates were higher for patients suffering from pneumonia, heart failure, or heart attacks at hospitals in states with CON laws than in non-CON states.

NFIB, the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization, has presented its most prestigious legislative recognition, the Guardian of Small Business Award, to Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte.

“The NFIB Guardian of Small Business Award is awarded to lawmakers whom small businesses can truly count on,” said NFIB Vice President of Federal Government Relations Kevin Kuhlman. “These Members of the United States House of Representatives are dedicated supporters of the key issues that our members are concerned about and have proven themselves to be real champions for small business. Our policy positions are driven by our members, and we report NFIB Key Votes back to our membership. We are proud to recognize the elected officials from the 116th Congress who earned this distinction by taking pro-small business votes supporting financial assistance programs and tax relief and opposing new regulations and increased labor costs. Small business owners across the country need their support now more than ever during these unprecedented times, and we are grateful to these lawmakers for their leadership.”

Added Riley Johnson, NFIB’s Montana state director, “At no time in recent history has small business needed more reliable and steadfast friends in Congress and state legislatures, and without a doubt, Congressman Gianforte has been one. The mom-and-pop enterprises of Montana’s Main Streets are grateful for the support Congressman Gianforte has given them.”

NFIB’s Guardian of Small Business Award is reserved for lawmakers who vote consistently with small business on the key issues identified by small business owners. Those who voted with small business on key issues 70% or more of the time during the 116th Congress earned the NFIB Guardian of Small Business Award. NFIB informs lawmakers in advance which votes will be considered NFIB Key Votes and asks lawmakers to support the consensus views of our members. We also remind them that the results will be reported back to the NFIB membership. 

By Bethany Blankley

More than 20 percent of small business owners said they will have to close permanently if current economic conditions do not improve within the next six months, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The largest small business association in the U.S., headquartered in Nashville, conducted the survey to assess the financial health of small businesses.

The survey found that 21 percent of small business owners said they will have to close without improved economic conditions within the next six months.

An additional 19 percent said they will be able to operate no longer than 7-12 months under current economic conditions.

Holly Wade, NFIB Director of Research and Policy Analysis, said that while small businesses are “adapting to the abrupt shifts in consumer spending, managing customer and employees’ health and safety,” complying with state and local mandates has created additional stress.

“Many of them still need more financial assistance just to keep their doors open and staff on payroll,” she said.

Of the small businesses that were able to receive a mostly forgivable loan through the Small Business Pay Check Protection Program (PPP), 84 percent said they have used the entire amount they received.

Nearly half of PPP loan borrowers (47 percent) anticipate that they will need additional financial support over the next 12 months. If eligible, and if offered, 44 percent said they would apply or re-apply for a second PPP loan.

Most small business owners surveyed said they do not expect business conditions to improve to normal levels until next year at the earliest. Only 19 percent said they expected conditions to improve to normal levels by the end of 2020.

Roughly 52 percent said it won’t be before sometime in 2021; 20 percent said sometime in 2022 when business conditions improve.

So far, sales levels remain at 50 percent or less than they were pre-COVID for about 20 percent of those surveyed.

CARES Act extended unemployment benefit funding hurt small businesses, respondents said. About 32 percent said the extra $600 per week that employees received “hurt their business by making it harder to hire or re-hire workers.”

Roughly 3 percent said they had to offer a higher wage to employees to encourage them to come back to their job; 4 percent said they agreed to have an employee continue working at reduced hours so they could also receive the $600 per week payment.

As a result of the $600 weekly payments, about 68 percent of workers received more income than they did when they were working, a report published by the Foundation for Government Accountability found.

Roughly one in five individuals on unemployment received at least double the amount of their prior wage. A worker previously earning $445 per week, or about $23,000 annually, has been receiving $832 per week in unemployment benefits, more than $43,000 annually, for example.

About 21 percent of the small business owners surveyed by NFSB reported they had an employee take COVID-19 related paid sick leave or family leave as mandated and offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Among them, only 30 percent said they had claimed the tax credit or an advance refund for reimbursement of these costs.

The survey is the 11th Small Business COVID-19 NFSB survey designed to assess the impact of state and national coronavirus shutdowns on small business operations, economic conditions, and utilization of the targeted small business loan programs.

The engine of the American economy is trying its best to start smoothly humming again, according to today’s release of the latest Small Business Economic Trends report (also called the Optimism Index) from National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small-business association. Now, can the surge in coronavirus cases abate long enough to take that engine for a test run on the road to recovery?
“What our latest Index tells me is that the Paycheck Protection Program is helping as planned and,  combined with the grittiness natural to all small-business owners, is slowly getting our economy back on track,” said Riley Johnson, Montana state director for NFIB. “If only we could get the foot of the COVID-19 crisis off the Superman’s cape of those small-business-owning job creators, we could expedite our national economic recovery.”
Eight of the 10 Index components rose in June, most sharply of all in the ‘real sales expectations’ component, followed distantly but solidly by ‘job openings,’ ‘good time to expand,’ and ‘job creation plans.’ The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes improved 37 points to a net 13% of owners. The historic 61-point drop over March and April has been followed by a 55-point increase over the past 2 months as owners are expecting higher sales with business re-openings.
The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the 4th quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are drawn from a random sample of NFIB’s membership. The report is released on the second Tuesday of each month. This survey was conducted in April 2020. For more information about NFIB, please visit NFIB.com.
“Small businesses are navigating the various federal and state policies in order to reopen their business and they are doing their best to adjust their business decisions accordingly,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “We’re starting to see positive signs of increased consumer spending, but there is still much work to be done to get back to pre-crisis levels.”

From the Oil Patch Hotline

North Dakota’s top state officials geared up for a tough legal fight to join in overturning a Federal Judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline after warning that action could be devastating to the state.
“He (the judge) did not appreciate the economic devastation to our citizens and community,” said Gov. Doug Burgum.
“The massive economic impact is enormous,” said Atty. Gen. Wayne Stenhjem. “It impacts roads, schools, jobs and companies, taxes and royalties.”
They were reacting to the decision by Federal Judge James Boasberg to shut down the $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline and remove all oil by Aug. 5 while an environmental review by the US Army Corps of Engineers takes place.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, is expected to appeal the judge’s decision after he rejected the company’s stay.
“Shutting down the pipeline will have a greater negative impact on safety than any environmental benefit the court is claiming to gain, putting more trucks on our roads, and more rail cars on the tracks, nearly 900 railcars per day,” said Ron Ness, president of the ND Petroleum Council. “Shutting down the pipeline will cut off North Dakota oil producers from the safest, most reliable and economic method of transporting our high-quality Bakken oil to the best markets in the country.”
Increasing crude oil hauling by train will also impact the state’s farmers during harvest season, he said.
Justin Kringstad, executive director of the ND Pipeline Authority, said 300,000 BOPD is being shipped out of state now on unit trains each carrying 70,000 BOPD.
Briefing the ND Industrial Commission headed by Gov. Burgum, Kringstad said converting more crude oil to rail shipping will be costly, adding at least $5 a barrel on top of the $8 a barrel transportation costs now.
There are 11 loading stations in the state, Kringstad said, but it will take time to ramp up additional rail cars and crews for more rail shipping. At its peak in 2012, the state was moving over 850,000 BOPD by rail.
The Enbridge pipeline running to Clearbrook, MN can handle 145,000 BOPD while the True Oil and Kinder Morgan pipelines also move smaller volumes south through Wyoming.

This fall, Montana National Guard members will be able to attend Montana State University Billings tuition-free.
Members of the Montana National Guard are eligible for scholarships, federal tuition assistance, and the GI Bill. The tuition waiver is available for Montana National Guard members as a “last-dollar award,” meaning it will make up the difference between the total cost of tuition and the sum of other funding, such as grants and scholarships that are received.
“This waiver will ensure that tuition is not an obstacle for our Guard members to pursue their higher education,” said Dawn Githens, retired Col. Air Force, director of the Military and Veterans Success Center. “It is one more service we can provide to those who serve our country.”
The waiver will be available starting Fall 2020 semester to all Montana National Guard members who do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher and who meet the admission requirements of MSUB or their Montana University System school of choice. In addition, waiver recipients must be certified as a Montana National Guard member in good standing by the Adjutant General.
“This tuition waiver will help keep members of our National Guard here in Montana, united with their families, continuing their education and strengthening our state’s workforce,” said Chancellor Dan Edelman. “Members of our Montana National Guard fulfill a crucial role for our state and our nation in times of need. Increasing access to higher education in our state with this tuition waiver is also a recruitment benefit for the Montana National Guard.”

Glacier National Park has been investigating several fires tht are suspicious in nature. Several investigators were on the ground, along with the FBI and National Park Service assisting remotely. Portions of the park are closed due to the investigation

The Billings REI store opened last Friday. The Washington-based outdoor retailer closed all its locations across the country in March. That included postponing the opening of the new Billings store at the corner of Shiloh Road and King Avenue West.

Ramsay residents are still fighting to prevent Love’s Travel Stops from locating a truck stop complex next to Interstate 90 about 7 miles west of Butte. Residents say a Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board decision that went against them bolstered their case. Love’s has purchased land for the truck stop at Ramsay and obtained a DEQ stormwater permit for general construction activities, but other regulatory approvals are still pending. Some Ramsay residents have opposed the project from the start, saying the truck stop will bring traffic, noise, pollution, transients and crime to the community.

Eagle Mount Bozeman and Julius Lehrkind Brewing have teamed up to make a special release beer in support of the local nonprofit. Eagle Mount provides a variety of camps and activities for kids and adults living with disabilities or cancer. Because of COVID-19, the nonprofit has scaled back much of its activities.

Sidewall Pizza Company opened this month in the Emerson Center in Bozeman. The first Sidewall Pizza Company was started in an old tire shop in South Carolina, hence the name, and the Bozeman Sidewall will be the first outside of that state. The menu features a variety of meat and vegetarian pizzas, all with the option of gluten free crust, and salads.

Slow Drift Shuttle Service has opened in Bozeman offering shuttle service for the Madison River and Yellowstone River.

Fishing on the Big Horn River is slowly recovering from a bad spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Business has reportedly picked up in the past month and is looking better for following months. Many of the cancellations have been rebooked for October

The Bowman family has been growing cherries on the eastern shore of Flathead Lake for five generations. The family business has grown from a single acre of trees to the two-state operation it is today. As Bowman Orchards celebrates 100 years of operation in 2020, the family looks back at a century of ups and downs. As the orchard grew, so did the cherry crop and the family’s success. In 1935 when a harsh early winter storm destroyed the orchard the family dug in and replanted the orchard.

North Dakota airports are beginning to see a rise in passengers coming through terminals. The eight commercial airports saw around 24,000 people flying, including Williston, Minot, Bismarck and Dickinson – which is only 24 percent of the number of passengers in June of last year. Bismarck Airport says each day numbers continue to climb. In June, they saw more than 8,000 passengers– the highest since the pandemic began.

When the coronavirus hit Montana and non-essential businesses closed, Misty Williams, Froid Grocery store owner, took the radical step of closing the front door of her “essential business,” restricting it to phone and Facebook orders and curbside pickup. Instead of shopping the aisles in person, customers “virtually shopped” by looking at photos of the shelves on the grocery’s Facebook page. Williams says the results were astounding as orders increased fivefold.

Beginning July 20, the City of Livingston announced their offices would be closed to the public since there were four or more active cases of COVID-19 in Park County. All persons on staff will remain available via telephone or email. In-person meetings will only be available by appointment. 

Gallatin County’s residential real estate market saw an increase in pending sales in June, while days on market, the inventory of available homes and new single-family listings decreased. The median sales price increased 6.7%, from $427,700 in June 2019 to $456,325 in June 2020. The average days on market decreased 3.5%, from 57 to 55. The inventory of available homes decreased compared to last year, from 472 to 364, and the month’s supply of inventory decreased 20%, from 3.5 to 2.8.
Sellers received 98.4% of their list price last month, down slightly from 99% last year. The number of new single-family listings decreased 13.4% compared to June 2019, from 269 to 233. Pending sales jumped 32.9%, from 173 to 230, and the number of closed sales fell slightly by 0.6%, from 171 to 170.

Two-Bit Saloon, The Yellowstone Raft Company, Rosie’s Bistro and Red’s Blue Goose Saloon were destroyed by a fire in Gardner, just six weeks after they were able to open following the COVID mandated closures.

Montana ranks seventh in the nation regarding racial equality, according to WalletHub.


In order to determine which states have the most racial equality in terms of employment and wealth, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across eight key metrics. The data compares the difference between white and black Americans in areas such as annual income, unemployment rate and homeownership rate.


Montana came in third regarding median annual income, 13th in labor-force participation rate, 10th regarding the Unemployment Rate, ninth in poverty rate, and first in terms of the homeless rate and also first in terms of the how few of the homeless are unsheltered, and ten in terms of the share of executives.

The Montana Contractors’ Association (MCA) recently awarded $20,500 in scholarships to 14 students, and $8,000 in classroom grants to eight Montana middle and high schools. Recipients of MCA Associates’ Division Presidential Scholarships include: Bradley Irwin, Billings; Morgan Baker, Kalispell; Latasha Fitzgerald, Browning; William Lane, Townsend; Norris Blossom, Helena; Anna Seymanski, Huntley; Madyson Skawinski; Great Falls; Hunter Eichert, St. Ignatius; Kassady Hinman, Butte; Garren Todoroff, Miles City; Sarah Ashley, Helena; Christine Fisher, Missoula; and Cole Arthur, Great Falls. The recipient of the MCA Concrete Division Scholarship is: Mandi Tvedt, Evansville, WY.


The $1,500 MCA Associates’ Division Presidential Scholarships are awarded annually to students whose parents or guardians are employed by MCA member companies. The $1,000 Concrete Division Scholarships are awarded to students whose parents or guardians are employed by member companies in the MCA’s Concrete Division. In addition, the MCA’s Education Foundation announced that eight Montana schools would be receiving MCA Construction Trade Awareness Grants. These $1,000 grants are designed to help area schools fund classroom equipment, provide supplies for class projects, and participate in Construction Week activities. Schools receiving classroom grants include: Belt High School, East Middle School (Great Falls), Fairfield High School, Helena High School, Hellgate High School (Missoula), Highwood High School, North Middle School (Great Falls), and Twin Bridges Schools.


“The MCA is dedicated to helping Montana students achieve their post-secondary goals, whether that includes apprenticeships, certificate programs, four-year degree programs, or whatever their calling may be,” said David Smith, MCA Executive Director. “We are also committed to helping schools encourage a path to careers in construction.”