By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

Twenty-five attorneys general and several other plaintiffs have sued the Biden administration asking the court to halt a federal ESG policy that could negatively impact the retirement savings of 152 million Americans. Montana is one of those states.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Northern District Amarillo Division naming Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh and the U.S. Department of Labor as defendants.

It alleges the U.S. Department of Labor created a rule prioritizing “woke” Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing that jeopardizes the retirement savings of 152 million workers, or two-thirds of the U.S. population.

Last November, the Department of Labor finalized a rule allowing companies to prioritize ESG policies when choosing retirement plans. It was the last phase of a nearly two-year effort to reverse a Trump-era rule banning the practice.

The department said it was implementing the rule to “remove barriers to plan fiduciaries’ ability to consider climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when they select investments and exercise shareholder rights.”

In response, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said President Joe Biden was “using unelected bureaucrats … to push his radical ESG agenda, undermine the Texas economy and jeopardize our national security and energy independence.

“Even as free market forces begin to erode the ESG fairy tale and expose the intellectual dishonesty and utter lack of transparency in this investment scam, President Biden is using the DOL rulemaking process to double down on policies that put his social agenda above the retirement needs of hard-working Americans.”

Less than two months later, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued, along with 24 other attorneys general.

“Beyond being detrimental to the retirement accounts of hardworking Americans, the rule is fundamentally unlawful, as well as arbitrary and capricious,”  Paxton said, noting that it violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), created to protect retirement assets, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“This rule is an affront to every American concerned about their retirement account,” Paxton said. “The fact that the Biden Administration is now opting to risk the financial security of working-class Americans to advance a woke political agenda is insulting and illegal. For generations, federal law has required that fiduciaries place their clients’ financial interests at the forefront, and I intend to fight the Biden Administration in court to ensure that they cannot put hard-working Americans’ retirement savings at risk.”

The rule, “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights,” follows an executive order Biden issued last May. His order directed the federal government to implement policies “to help safeguard the financial security of America’s families, businesses and workers from climate-related financial risk that may threaten the life savings and pensions of U.S. workers and families.”

The rule change “will bolster the resilience of workers’ retirement savings and pensions by removing the artificial impediments – and chilling effect on environmental, social and governance investments – caused by the prior administration’s rules,” Acting Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration Ali Khawar said in a statement last fall. “A principal idea underlying the proposal is that climate change and other ESG factors can be financially material and when they are, considering them will inevitably lead to better long-term risk-adjusted returns, protecting the retirement savings of America’s workers.”

November’s notice followed a March 2021 and October 2021 announcement and included comments received from the public.

Last August, Hegar directed state agencies to divest from 350 individual investment funds and 10 financial companies that were prioritizing ESG, and particularly boycotting oil and natural gas companies, as part of their portfolio. Not long after, Gov. Greg Abbott told The Center Square that the directive was working. He said some of the companies on Texas’ list were making an effort to get off of it.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also taken action, including prohibiting the state’s retirement fund from investing in funds that prioritize ESG.

It’s true. Many Montanans do not fully realize the extent to which, as citizens, they have a right to access public documents and attend public meetings. Montana citizens have “a right to know” almost everything state and local governmental entities do and to have full access to public documents.

A webinar forum is being presented on Thursday, February 9, 6:30 pm, focused on Montana’s “Freedom of the Press and the Public’s Right to Know under the Montana Constitution.” Register for the webinar presentation at https:// lclibrary. event/10190724.

The program will be moderated by retired Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson, and features panelists, Darrell Ehrlick, editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, and Billings constitutional trial lawyer Martha Sheehy.

“There is a symbiotic relationship between freedom of the press and the public’s right to know,” says Nelson. “The press is being frustrated in its constitutional right to know and is being forced to file lawsuits both to ensure that public meetings are open to the public and receive proper public notice and that public documents are available to the public. “The press is subsidizing the public’s right to know.”

“The right to know guarantees that citizens have access to all governmental decision-making,” Sheehy adds. “People need to know how to exercise that right.”

“Because we stand in the public’s shoes,” says Ehrlick, who has been a party in a number of these lawsuits, ”our fight is your fight. You should know what the press is doing on your behalf because these are your public officials.”

Ehrlick is the former editor of The Billings Gazette, which took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years during his tenure.

During her 35- year career, Sheehy has represented media interests and private citizens in enforcing Montana’s constitutional right to know in dozens of cases. Her uncle was a delegate to the 1972 Constitutional Convention.

Nelson, served on the Montana Supreme Court from 1993 to 2013 and is a former Glacier County Attorney and prosecutor.

The event is co-sponsored by the Montana League of Women Voters of the Helena Area and Lewis & Clark Library.

Samuel Stebbins,  24/7 Wall St. for Center Square

Public employee pension systems are some of the largest financial liabilities on state government balance sheets. The 50 states have over $4.5 trillion in cumulative pension liabilities combined, roughly double the amount all 50 states spent in fiscal 2020. For years, state pension systems were woefully underfunded in much of the country, but according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, this trend may be reversing.

Driven by higher investment from both employees and employers, state pension systems have largely stabilized as of 2020. Since 2007, states across the country have more than doubled annual pension contributions, often cutting funding for other programs to do so.

Still, some states are better positioned to pay public sector employees in retirement than others. In Montana, pension liabilities totaled an estimated $17.5 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, the state’s pension assets totaled $11.8 billion. Considering both assets and liabilities, Montana’s pension funding ratio is 67.3%, the 20th lowest in the country.

According to 2021 estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Montana state government employs some 27,800 people, or 5.6% of the total private and public sector workforce in the state.

It is important to note that 2020 is the most recent year for which comprehensive state level data is available and that the recent market downturn has all but erased much of the financial gains states have made in recent years. Still, while markets are always susceptible to turmoil, improved policies have gone a long way to improving pension funding in much of the country.

All state pension data in this story was compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts using comprehensive annual financial reports from each state.

KLJ Engineering is proud to welcome four new employees to its Billings office. These new employee-owners will be working in multiple markets across KLJ.

Joining KLJ’s survey team is Tyler Mayhue. While working as a survey technician, he is actively pursuing his degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University. Mayhue also has a bachelor’s in business administration.

Luke Walker comes to KLJ as a CAD Technician I. He is pursuing his bachelor’s in math at Liberty University. Walker is also a Specialist in the US Army.

Jessica Callahan recently started as an environmental specialist II. She has more than seven years of experience working as an environmental/permitting specialist and GIS analyst on a variety of projects in the Midwestern States, including Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Callahan has her master’s in biology from The University of Northern Iowa.

Jhett Quade has begun his career as a civil engineer in training. Before coming to KLJ, he spent time as an assistant project manager and field technician at different companies across Montana. Quade earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from Montana State University.

Hannah Olson joined the Billings Chamber of Commerce as the Director of Communications and Marketing in late September, 2022.

Olson comes to the Chamber with an abundance of experience in communications and community engagement. She previously worked with nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County and YWCA Billings and in public involvement with DOWL Civil Engineers. Actively involved in the community, Olson currently serves on the NextGEN leadership team and is a board member for the Junior League of Billings.

With a heart for civic engagement, she ran for the Montana state legislature in 2020, served on the Board of Community Development for the City of Billings, and is the past president of the MSU Billings Alumni Advisory Board. She also has a daughter, Vienna, who is her pride and joy. In her new role, Olson oversees the overall branding and public image of the Billings Chamber of Commerce and leads the electronic, social media and design functions, with management of Chamber publications, and public relations.

She is also directly responsible for overseeing success of new member sales, sponsorship, member retention, and event success and sharing the value of Chamber membership. Olson holds a Master of Science in public relations and a Bachelor of Science in English, both from Montana State University Billings, and an Associate of Arts in secondary education from Northwest College. She grew up in Powell, Wyoming and has been a proud resident of the South Side of Billings since 2013

By Brett Rowland, The Center Square

The Federal Trade Commission proposed a ban on noncompete clauses which the FTC said were often exploitative and suppressed wages and competition.

“The freedom to change jobs is core to economic liberty and to a competitive, thriving economy,” Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. “Noncompetes block workers from freely switching jobs, depriving them of higher wages and better working conditions, and depriving businesses of a talent pool that they need to build and expand.”

The federal agency said ending the practice of noncompete clauses could increase wages by almost $300 billion a year and expand career opportunities for about 30 million Americans. The FTC is seeking public comment on the proposed rule. The rule was based on a preliminary finding that such clauses constitute an unfair method of competition.

“Research shows that employers’ use of noncompetes to restrict workers’ mobility significantly suppresses workers’ wages – even for those not subject to noncompetes, or subject to noncompetes that are unenforceable under state law,” said Elizabeth Wilkins, director of the Office of Policy Planning. “The proposed rule would ensure that employers can’t exploit their outsized bargaining power to limit workers’ opportunities and stifle competition.”

The FTC’s proposed rule would make it illegal for an employer to:

* enter into or attempt to enter into a noncompete with a worker;

* maintain a noncompete with a worker; or

* represent to a worker, under certain circumstances, that the worker is subject to a noncompete.

The proposed rule would apply to independent contractors and those who work for an employer, paid or unpaid. It also would require employers to rescind existing noncompetes and inform workers that they are no longer in effect.

Once upon a time, in a land where our leaders tended to have more concern for their constituents then they do now–-though nothing as per their job descriptions in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense–-established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The purpose of the FTC is/was to curtail potential monopolies causing a lack of competition in various segments.  A lack of competition puts the consumer “between a rock and a hard place” when purchasing their goods and services, especially necessities.


*Four international meat processing facilities control 80% of the total commercial processing in our country;

*The largest grocery chains merging;

*Airlines “joining” forces;

*Exxon-Mobil being bought out;

*There is a publication group that has approximately 300 livestock and livestock-related newspapers and periodicals.  Think of the impact they can have on issues relative to their readers.

One has to wonder if there is “anyone at home” at the FTC or are their offices being used for storage?  I ask this because of all the merging going on, no one ever hears of the FTC doing due diligence on these entities.

The only merger I have heard about that may be of benefit to a group of people, is the news group that is buying up the small newspapers in Montana.  If left to their own, some of these papers would not be able to continue.  I only hope the news group will continue to serve the relatively small towns in Montana by continuing the distinctive, individual papers.

Wally McLane

Billings, Montana

Evan Decker joined Visit Billings, managed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce, as the new Sports Tourism Manager in November 2022. In his new role, Decker is leading the ongoing recruitment and solicitation of sports related tournaments and events to the Billings area by supporting businesses, event coordinators, tournament owners, local and state sports associations, rights holders, and National Governing Bodies in the athletic field.

He promotes Billings as a sports tourism destination to grow existing and recruit new athletic events. “The sports market is the second largest segment for growing visitation to Billings and creates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact,” said Alex Tyson, executive director of Visit Billings. “Evan brings a wealth of knowledge to the destination and focus to help grow new and foster existing sports events. He will take the market to the next levels.”

Decker holds a Bachelor of Science in hospitality management from Northern Arizona University and has experience in the hospitality, tourism, and sports industries. He recently became a Certified Autism Travel Professional (CATP) and completed training to receive his designation as a Professional in Destination Management (PDM). Decker officially joined Visit Billings on November 1, 2022. He relocated to Billings from Tempe, Arizona for his new role. No stranger to Montana’s Trailhead, Decker has strong Montana roots through his family and enjoys skiing and recreation in the outdoors.

In national news reports, prior to Christmas, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said that his company was experiencing incidents of theft “higher than what its historically been.” He explained that rising in-store theft, which often goes unchecked by local law enforcement, could force Walmart to raise prices “or even close some stores.”

His comments were buttressed by similar reports from Target’s CEO Brian Cornell a month earlier, saying that their company, too, had seen  a “significant increase in organized retail crime across our business.”

Year-to-date inventory shrink reduced Target’s gross margin by more than $400 million compared to last year, with an expected total loss of more than $600 million for the full year.

Across all retail brands, the average shrink rate in 2021 was 1.4%, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2022 National Retail Security Survey. That represents $94.5 billion in total losses, up from $90.8 billion in 2020, the association found.

Organized retail crime was up 26.5% in 2021, according to NRF.

“This is an industrywide problem that is often driven by criminal networks, and we are collaborating with multiple stakeholders to find industrywide solutions,” Target CFO Michael Fiddelke told analysts.

Target, in a statement to WGB, said it was working with law enforcement, legislators, community partners and retail trade associations to address the “growing national problem” of retail theft.

The retailer said it is a strong supporter of the INFORM (Integrity, Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces) Consumers Act that increases accountability and prevents people from selling stolen goods on online marketplaces.

At Walmart, the retailer has put safety measures in place on a store-by-store basis, a process that relies on proper staffing of local law enforcement, McMillon noted.

McMillon added that he would like to see firmer prosecution of shoplifters as well.

“If that’s not corrected over time, prices will be higher and/or stores will close,” he told CNBC. “It’s really city by city, location by location. It’s store managers working with local law enforcement. … It’s just policy consistency and clarity so we can make capital investments with some vision.”

Montana saw another year of record business registrations in 2022.

According to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, roughly 53,000 new businesses were registered after registration fees were cut in half and other fees were eliminated entirely.

The Montana Secretary of State’s Office released the following information:

Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen announced another record number of new businesses were registered in Montana in 2022. Secretary Jacobsen made the announcement during the Montana Chamber of Commerce Business Days at the Capitol at the beginning of the month.