By Glenn Minnis, The Center Square

Precisely half the respondents polled in a new State Policy Network survey of 2,041 registered voters say the federal government is “failing or doing a poor job” at preventing internal corruption. That’s compared to only 23% of respondents who say the federal government is good or excellent at preventing corruption.

At the same time, well over half of all voters also give lawmakers in Washington D.C. an unsatisfactory mark when it comes to their handling of taxpayer dollars, with 54% agreeing the government deserves a poor or failing mark on the issue. Just 22% of respondents say the federal government does a good or excellent job at spending tax dollars.

      By comparison, only 36% of voters said they see state governments faring as poorly, with just 32% of respondents agreeing that they would give them a poor or failing grade.

“Very little of what happens at the federal level is focused on tangible benefits to people so voters rightly assume that the government is not working for them,” SPN messaging strategist Erin Norman told The Center Square in explaining how so many have come to have such varying views about branches of government.

“People also have experience watching government struggle to respond to urgent needs,” she added. “COVID-19 is a great example and spanned two very different administrations showing it’s more than political – it is problems with the very nature of the federal government.”

In addition, only 27% of voters feel the federal government is good or excellent at effectively getting things done, compared to 34% who say the same about their state government. Only 25% of those surveyed say the federal government is good or excellent at “serving people like me rather than special interest groups.” That’s compared to 37% who say the same about state government.

With just 45% of voters saying they feel the federal government’s performance is responsive to the needs of their community, Norman said lawmakers have much work to do to make more voters feel like government is truly at work for them.

“Work should be pushed down to the most local level of government possible where people are more likely to know people from their community involved in the work and see the tangible benefits to policy,” she said. “It is going to be very hard in today’s environment for people to see the federal government as serving them directly or for the federal government to pivot to more personal service.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte recently expanded work-based learning opportunities for Montana students, signing three bills into law to support schools in offering internships, apprenticeships, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

Advancing his pro-student, pro-parent, pro-teacher education agenda this legislative session, Gov. Gianforte delivered a series of wins which support classroom innovation.

First, the governor reformed the Advanced Opportunities Program to support schools in expanding work-based and personalized learning opportunities for students.

The Advanced Opportunities Program provides $4 million annually to schools for programs that advance students’ career and educational success.

House Bill 257 doubles the amount of funding individual elementary, high school, and K-12 districts may receive through the program while increasing the percentage of funding that goes directly to students.

Second, the governor signed House Bill 458, sponsored by Rep. Fred Anderson, R-Great Falls, to get career coaches into more Montana schools to support students in their educational and career endeavors.

Lastly, the governor signed House Bill 382, to triple funding for Career and Technology Student Organizations (CTSO) in Montana.

City College at Montana State University Billings has been awarded a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration Nursing Expansion Program to diversify and expand the nursing workforce in rural Montana.

The Nursing Expansion Grant Program will allow City College to grow the existing Registered Nurse and Licensed Practical Nurse workforce in rural eastern and south-central Montana, creating the Rural Eastern Montana Nursing Expansion Program. Through this funding, City College will be able to accept additional students into both nursing programs and will be able to respond to shortages in the rural health care workforce through recruiting, training, and graduating rural Montana students who are likely to return to their hometowns to work.

“I am excited that this grant will allow us to expand our partnerships with eastern Montana to better meet the critical health care needs in rural areas,” says City College Dean Vicki Trier. With over 90 percent of RN and LPN program graduates passing the NCLEX exam on their first attempt, City College offers high quality nursing degrees; this funding will allow the project to serve a total of 300 participants from rural and low-income backgrounds from eastern and south-central Montana over the grant period; will establish or strengthen relationships with rural hospitals, increasing available preceptorships and clinical sites; and will increase City College’s training capacity by 25 percent.

The LPN program will increase from 15 students to 22 per year while the RN program will increase from 40 students to 56 per year. “This grant will increase our simulation facilities and provide funding for recruitment and assistance to potential students in rural areas of Montana,” says Susan Floyd, director of nursing at City College. “We are excited to be able to help with the crucial nursing needs in rural areas of Montana.”

The Rural Eastern Montana Nursing Expansion Program encompasses twenty-four counties and over 63,000 square miles. Counties to be served include Sheridan, Daniels, Valley, Roosevelt, Fergus, Petroleum, Garfield, McCone, Richland, Dawson, Prairie, Wibaux, Golden Valley, Musselshell, Treasure, Rosebud, Custer, Fallon, Stillwater, Carbon, Yellowstone, Big Horn, Powder River, and Carter. Partners within these counties will be the key to the program’s success as they will provide a range of services including participant referrals, supportive services to participants, educational services, employment services, and clinical sites.

The Nursing Expansion Grant Program is designed to improve the nation’s healthcare system through diversifying the pipeline of the nursing field through training people from historically marginalized and underrepresented populations. City College is one of 25 public-private partnerships within 17 states awarded funding through the Nursing Expansion Grant Program.

“The increase in our capacity to train nursing students made possible through the Nursing Expansion Grant Program is part of a planned growth in nursing and other health programs at MSU Billings, with a clear focus on meeting the workforce needs of Billings and Montana,” notes MSUB Provost Sep Eskandari. “Over the next five years, the university will work intentionally to significantly increase the enrollment capacity of LPN and RN offerings at City College as well as the RN to BSN Degree Completion Program offered by the College of Health Professions and Science.”

California Law Could Affect all States…

By Victor Skinner, The Center Square

North Carolina hog farmers could take a major hit from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a California animal cruelty law regulating pork sales in that state.

“Right now we’re still trying to digest the ruling to understand exactly what it says,” Roy Lee Lindsey, CEO of the NC Pork Council, told The Center Square. “It was a very complex opinion.”

Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry, and the state is home to the top two hog producing counties in the country: Duplin County with nearly 2 million hogs, and Sampson County with more than 1.8 million. Bladen County is 11th nationally for hog production, while Wayne County is 17th.

Overall, North Carolina consistently ranks in the top three pork producing states at about 4.2 billion pounds annually, behind only Iowa at about 13.2 billion pounds and Minnesota at about 4.6 billion, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer, operates the world’s largest plant in Tar Heel – a small Bladen County community between Elizabethtown and Fayetteville. The industry has economic output of more than $10 billion for the state and 19,298 jobs, according to 2019 N.C. State University data.

The Supreme Court, with a 5-4 decision that was nonpartisan, upheld a California animal cruelty law that requires pork sold in the state to come from sows raised with a minimum of 24 square feet of space.

The ruling seemingly outlaws common metal enclosures used in the industry for breeding pigs for producers who want to sell pork in California, significantly reducing capacity.

“It has an impact as a whole across the country,” Lindsey said. “Its impact is not going to be limited to one state or two states, it’s going to affect all of us.”

In a prepared statement released later in the day, Lindsey added, “Hog farmers in North Carolina do not understand how the State of California should have any say in how hogs are raised in NC. Every day, hog farmers across North Carolina work to provide the proper care for OUR hogs. Just as we have for generations, our farmers will continue to work on continuous improvement – being just a little better every day – in everything we do. That includes raising animals responsibly, producing safe food, caring for the environment, caring for our employees, and investing in our communities.

“This is not a message of doom and gloom. NC hog farmers, and hog farmers across the country, are resilient. They have faced challenges before and always found a way forward. Proposition 12 is just THE latest in a long list of challenges our farmers will overcome.”

The National Pork Producers Council predicts the ruling will result in higher prices for consumers and fewer small farms.

“We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion,” said Scott Hays, a Missouri pork producer and president of the national council. “Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation.

“We are still evaluating the court’s full opinion to understand all the implications. NPPC will continue to fight for our nation’s pork farmers and American families against misguided regulations.”

California’s law stems from Proposition 12, approved by voters as an animal cruelty law in 2018 to allow sows room to turn around and lie down during gestation. The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council challenged the law, arguing nearly all of the pork sold in California comes from hogs raised elsewhere.

The pork industry noted that nearly three-quarters of farmers raise sows in pens that do not comply with the law, which could cost the industry up to $350 million.

California produces one-tenth of 1% of the nation’s pork.

Justice Brett Kanvanaugh wrote within his dissent, “If one State conditions sale of a good on the use of preferred farming, manufacturing, or production practices in another State where the good was grown or made, serious questions may arise under the Import-Export Clause.”

The Humane Society of the United States was a party to the case and cheered the Supreme Court’s decision not to restrict the California law.

Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society, said, “It’s astonishing that pork industry leaders would waste so much time and money on fighting this common sense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California.

Visit Montana has developed Montana Dinosaur Trail for visitors and travelers to Montana’s spectacular unspoiled nature, vibrant and charming small towns, breathtaking experiences and relaxing hospitality.

Dinosaurs have been a staple of American culture since the dawn of time, but a lesser-known American staple is Montana’s big imprint on Dinosaur discovery and today, the many ways for visitors to get their hands dirty uncovering a piece of the past for themselves. Plan your ultimate dino vacation on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, an extraordinary journey through time, where visitors witness the wonders of prehistoric life.

Winding its way through the state, the Montana Dinosaur Trail takes travelers back in time with 14 locations to learn about Montana’s prehistoric residents. While the trail starts along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front and ends in Southeast Montana, dinosaur enthusiasts can explore the sites in any preferred order. As a bonus, many of the stops on the trail are home to fossils and artifacts that were unearthed locally, in Montana. The trail’s Prehistoric Passport makes it easy to visit them all—just like the dinosaurs did.

A day at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is a must during a Montana adventure. It’s one of the world’s finest research and history museums, as well as a Smithsonian affiliate. Ideal for multi-generational visitors, the museum is home to an impressive fossil collection, permanent exhibits and planetarium shows, as well as a chance to view two of Big Sky Country’s most famous dinosaurs: Big Mike the T. rex and Big Al, a nearly complete Allosaurus.

Big Mike is one of the most complete T. rex skeletons in the world. While the original bones are on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, a 15-foot bronze cast stands watch over the museum, greeting you upon arrival. A local family discovered the fossil in eastern Montana in 1988, catching the attention of a Hollywood film team who used the excavation to help produce Jurassic Park.

A four-hour drive north from Bozeman, through limestone bluffs carved by the Missouri River and sweeping valleys of farmland, leads to an area known as the Rocky Mountain Front. Nestled here in the shadow of towering mountain peaks are the small communities of Bynum and Choteau, both of which are prime destinations on the Montana Dinosaur Trail.

With a population of 31, Bynum is a small town—even by Montana standards—with a big dinosaur scene. The Montana Dinosaur Center is home to impressive fossils, including remains of a recently discovered dinosaur species, but what truly sets this museum apart is its dig program. Varying from half-day to five-day dig programs, attendees work alongside paleontologists to unearth a piece of Montana’s rich dinosaur history for themselves. This unique program runs from May through September. Booking for a summer dig is available online here.

This area is also home to Egg Mountain, which became an important site in Montana’s dinosaur history after a Bynum local, Marion Brandvold, found the remains of juvenile dinosaurs. After showing her discovery to Jack Horner, a well-known paleontologist, Horner and his team unearthed 14 dinosaur nests. The original dinosaur fossils found by Brandvold can be seen on display at the Old Trail Museum in Choteau.

Continue along the trail through central Montana for more locally discovered prehistoric treasures. The Upper Musselshell Museum in Harlowton features “Ava,” an Avaceratops skeleton that was the first of its kind, as well as American Indian artifacts from ancient bison kill sites. The Depot Museum in Rudyard is home to the “Oldest Sorehead,” a fully jointed fossil of a Gryposaurus found nearby. Chinook’s Blaine County Museum houses numerous prehistoric discoveries unearthed in the Judith River Formation, a fossil hotbed deposited in this region 75 to 80 million years ago.

Following the Montana Dinosaur Trail east, adventurers will find five additional locations among the sweeping plains, river coulees and badland formations.

The Fort Peck Interpretive Center and Museum features a full-size cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil named Peck’s Rex™ that was unearthed near Fort Peck Lake in 1997. It is one of the most complete fossils discovered in the world.

One of the most compelling communities on the Montana Dinosaur Trail is Glendive, with stops at Frontier Gateway Museum and Makoshika State Park. Today, Montana’s largest state park is home to hiking trails, stunning badland views and a chance to see fossilized remains of several prehistoric species, including Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.

There’s also plenty of exciting events for all ages along the Montana Dinosaur Trail, including the 11th Annual Dino Shindig this summer at the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka. This family-friendly event attracts attendees from all over the world for fun activities and hands-on fossil digs.

Find more dinosaur adventures and ways to explore Montana’s history at visitmt.com.

Samuel Stebbins,  24/7 Wall St. via The Center Square

 Deciding where to go college is the first major life decision many Americans make. And while there are many factors to weigh when selecting a school – including cost and distance from home – many of the 16.6 million American college students today chose to enroll in the best school they could get into.

It is generally believed that graduates of elite colleges and universities are better positioned for higher-paying careers later in life. And there is plenty of evidence to back this claim. According to one study conducted between 1996 and 2014, about 38% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 45% of billionaires attended elite post-secondary schools.

Because elite colleges and universities offer high quality and rigorous academic programs, they receive far more applications each year than they can accept. As a result, many of the best schools in the country are also the most selective. It is worth noting that those who graduate from top-tier institutions are high achievers to begin with, and therefore, any career success cannot be attributed to their college education alone.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the six colleges or universities in Montana with available data, The University of Montana-Western, located in Dillon, ranks as the hardest school to get into. Only 33.3% of applicants for the fall 2021 semester were admitted, and the median SAT score among enrolled students in the 2020-2021 academic year was 1005 out of a possible 1600.

The average cost of attending The University of Montana-Western as a full-time student is $17,790 for one academic year. Average annual cost of attendance is only for full-time, first-time, undergraduates who receive Title IV aid.

All schools in each state with at least 1,000 applicants in fall 2021 were ranked.

By Courtney Madany, Graduate assistant for University Communications & Marketing

Montana State University Billings Accounting and Finance Professor Ying Wang, DBA, recently published a study in the Journal of Finance and Accountancy. This study analyzed trends in local and state budgets. The public can now access Wang’s full publication online.

Wang says her study was inspired by the changing economic conditions in recent years. The study shows although state revenues go up and down with economic cycles, state expenditures are persistent and the effort to adjust expenditures according to revenue is not apparent if attempted at all.

“We expect our faculty to participate in scholarly activity and Dr. Wang always exceeds our expectations,” says Ed Garding, interim dean of MSUB’s College of Business. “In addition, she provides community service on behalf of MSUB with the many committees that she serves on, carries a heavy teaching load, and stays current on new accounting rules and provides that information to her students.”

Wang has worked at MSUB for 15 years and is honored to be part of a close-knit and welcoming community. “At MSUB, we contribute to the academic society and the public by publishing relevant, current research that helps understanding of the current economic situation,” Wang says.

The MSUB accounting program is demanding, and the students work hard and are in high demand upon graduating. Wang’s study will help provide insight into governmental accounting, which is important knowledge they need in their career, either as an auditor or working in a government role.

The public can access Wang’s full publication online.

A Montana State University alumnus has won the $75K Venture Competition, taking home $25,000 for his business venture. The remaining $50,000 was split between seven other finalists and seven semi-finalists. 

The annual competition was open to students, faculty, staff and alumni of Montana State University and the University of Montana. It is hosted by the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship?and the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad. The finalists were from a diverse group of disciplines, including business, engineering, computer science, food science and healthcare. 

The winners of the 2023 $75K Venture competition are: 

* First place, $25,000: High Proof Razor Co., presented by David Ellig, which designs and manufactures high-quality and innovative shaving razors in Belgrade.  

* Second place, $15,000: MatchCoach, presented by Chase Bartlett, a coaching platform that uses artificial intelligence and technology to help tennis players access personalized remote coaching on their gameplay for fractions of the cost of traditional coaching. 

* Third place, $10,500: First Nations Foods, presented by James Vallie, which aims to create novel food products using Indigenous cultural food knowledge and modern food science technology 

The five other finalists were each awarded $3,500. They are listed in alphabetical order: 

* Feedplan, presented by Win Feigle, a subscription-based marketplace platform that connects customers with meal plans from their favorite restaurants. 

* Neurofluidic Diagnostics, presented by Zeynep Malkoç and Zach Jewett, an MSU spin-off that offers drug testing environments to detect and monitor the hallmarks of neurodegeneration linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. 

* Scepter Picks, presented by Nicole Matuszynski and Jack Neupert, which is developing high-quality ice climbing picks. 

* Seidr, presented by Jay Getten, a clinical decision support system for mental health conditions that is designed to help clinicians effectively triage, assess and treat patients. 

* Telepathy Bikes, presented by Calvin Servheen and Matt Lessmeier, which creates mountain bike suspensions that absorb more trail roughness and transmit more rider power than traditional bikes. 

The finalists advanced from a semifinal round of 15 competing ventures. The ventures that didn’t make it into the final round received $1,000. 

David Ellig, founder of the winning High Proof Razor Co., graduated from MSU in 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He said he was excited to win the money but also appreciated the feedback. 

“It’s really cool to get more validation from other people that have been out in the industry that think that this product and this idea has potential and can go somewhere,” he said. 

His metal razors are designed to last a lifetime with interchangeable blades. They are made at Ellig’s machine shop in Belgrade. 

He said the winnings will help fund a patent and cover some marketing expenses. So far, the company’s only marketing effort has been to provide samples to YouTube personalities to review the razors. Even so, Ellig said, his company has sold more than 1,000 razors since developing the first prototype in 2019. 

The diversity of the businesses as well as their sound business plans impressed the judges. 

“I was very impressed with the breadth of valid business opportunities as well as the depth of knowledge, preparation, and professionalism of the entrepreneurs at the $75K competition,” Nordhagen said. “The support for the entrepreneurs was also evident through the generosity of the donors who provided the seed money and the coaching that was provided by the LaunchPad team. The prizes are substantial and will really boost these ventures.” 

The MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship offers four undergraduate options of study – accounting, finance,management and marketing– as well as five minors- accounting, business administration, entrepreneurship and small business management, finance and international business. It also offers a master of professional accountancy degree, master of science in innovation and management, abusiness certificate and entrepreneurship certificate. 

MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad helps MSU students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers. Open to students and recent alumni in all majors, LaunchPad provides mentoring, opportunities for participants .

Together with Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Charlie Brereton, Governor Greg Gianforte  announced Montana has been selected for a grant to support the implementation of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC).

“Instead of turning our backs on those struggling with addiction, we’re investing in hope and opportunity as they get clean, sober, and healthy,” Gov. Gianforte said. “CCBHCs are another tool in the toolbox to expand access to quality mental health and substance use services for our neighbors and build safer, stronger, healthier communities.”

Montana is one of 15 states selected for a $1 million federal grant to support a 12-month planning process for the implementation of CCHBCs.

Brereton said DPHHS is proactively working with 10 community behavioral health providers to determine community readiness and behavioral health needs as the state begins the planning process. 

“Under this model, clinics in other states are closing treatment gaps by offering a comprehensive range of behavioral health services through enhanced reimbursements,” Brereton said. “There is growing demand for services in our state, but capacity of the current system is limited. This is another way that we are transforming Montana’s behavioral health system for future generations.”

The year-long planning phase assists states in developing certification criteria for CCBHCs, crafting technical assistance and training models to complete the certification, establishing a prospective payment system for Medicaid reimbursable services, and preparing an application to participate in a four-year demonstration program.

In 2024, 10 of the 15 states that received planning grants will be selected to join the demonstration project, which provides enhanced federal Medicaid reimbursement for the full cost of covered services provided by CCBHCs.

The certification requirements establish a basic level of service at which a CCBHC should operate and must follow six key program areas that include staffing, availability and accessibility of services, care coordination, scope of services, quality measurements, and consumer representation.

DPHHS will also develop a collaborative workgroup to design Montana’s certification process and related supportive training.

“We look forward to engaging clients, providers, communities, and stakeholders on the state’s grant efforts and activities,” Brereton concluded.

By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square

The fight over ESG policies has occurred mainly at the state level, where legislatures have passed laws banning financial companies that use ESG standards from doing business with their state. Twenty-six attorneys general, including Reyes and Marshall, sued the Biden administration over allowing companies to prioritize ESG standards when choosing retirement plans.

Reyes called ESG an “undemocratic tax” on the economy and productivity.

“I’m here to warn you about the process involved in effectuating ESG goals,” said Reyes. “No matter how much you may agree with the policy being pushed if you deconstruct the process, it is a flawed and dangerous one and may also be illegal.”

Frerichs had a different definition of ESG, calling it “data.”

“ESG is simply additional information that investment professionals use to assess risks and return prospects,” Frerichs said. “The more data we, as investors have, the better informed our decisions are when selecting investments over the long-term.”

The two parties also disagreed over the costs of ESG. Republicans said ESG-based investments did not perform well. And ESG standards, particularly when it comes to fossil fuels, drive up consumer prices.

“If you look, particularly what’s driven inflation and what’s hit Americans in the pocketbook, including Alabamians, it’s been an increased cost of energy, part of that is attributable to decreased investment in what is currently producing the energy in our country itself,” Marshall said. “But beyond that, particularly, for example, in agriculture, is going to be the attack on agriculture as it relates to their responsibility, according to the left, for increased carbon emissions. The question is going to be do we find farmers discriminated against in their banking relationships, do we see farmers discriminated against in other financial relationships that impact their ability to do their job?

Democrats said state bans on ESG investing have hurt states.

A report from The Brookings Institution released last month said Texas’ ESG policies could cost the state “$300-$500 million in additional interest on the $31.8 billion borrowed during the first eight months following the implementation of the law.”

Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ken., said in a statement after the hearing the committee’s work on ESG was not done.

“No administration should be able to gamble with Americans’ retirements to fund its own political agenda in the private market,” Comer said. “We must expose and investigate the propriety and legality of this coordinated effort.”