By Evelyn Pyburn

In gathering up the latest on some of the actions of the state legislature, some observations just couldn’t be avoided….

One positive that will hopefully emerge from the COVID crisis is the understanding that state and federal laws in general are barriers to efficient, prompt and affordable health care. That President Trump and now the Montana state legislature has interceded to eliminate many of the bureaucratic barriers to healthcare is nothing but good. But, let’s be honest, it’s been the health industry establishment in collaboration with government, that has long stood in the way of faster and more affordable health care processes in the quest to sustain the bottom line for the industry. Now that the establishment has gained some control over the technology, the industry is less guarded about its use, but one has to admit there’s been a lot of unnecessary foot-dragging that surely had the consequences of greater suffering, maybe even death, and certainly greater costs to consumers. Long before now, they should have let the market prevail and many should be ashamed that they did not.

Kind of along those same lines – who knew? How many people really realized that a law was needed to  to allow a doctor and patient to do business?  Surely that must come as a surprise to many – this is a free country after all – or is it? When government has a law that allows the consumer to use a service only if it is through an insurance company… or a law that won’t let the provider of a service transact directly with their patient, then whatever is going on is something far removed from freedom – and most certainly isn’t a free market at work. Someone said that the passage of SB 101 was nothing more than common sense. It is shocking that that even has to be said.  Whatever group of protectionists is responsible for this restraint should be ashamed.

Another group who should be ashamed is anyone who takes action to allow or believes it is in any way justifiable to make a life-altering decision for a child by changing their gender. It really isn’t about the nature of the action as much as it is about the grave responsibility of raising a child. Mutalating a child should be considered reprehensible, even if it is just to pierce a baby’s ears or give them a tattoo. It is not only a violation of their body but of what should be that child’s right to decide what they want to do with their body.  To impose such a decision is cruel and totally indifferent about the future of that little human being. Such a decision should be that of a mature, self-responsible, fully- compehending adult. One would think that the role of any state legislator would be first and foremost to protect the child’s rights even when others fail to do so. But apparently some of them will also fail such a child.

Those opposed to the legislature striping local health officers and boards of much of their power claimed that doing so would risk placing politics over science. One can hardly disagree that politcs is indeed a very real possibility given this past year – and in fact most people— no matter where they stand on issues— would have to agree that the status quo was no deterrent to politics impacting decisions. In fact, it was hard to determine where science ended and politics began – and therein is the problem with government interceding in decisions that should be left up to the individual citizen. In a day and age where almost every scientist in the country is dependent upon government largess to fund research and their livelihoods, there can be no rational way not to believe at the very outset all science is a compromised field. And, when it becomes standard practice to censor communications, news, books and public discourse in order to silence one side or another, one can safely conclude that there is nothing but politics at play and every citizen should be afraid – very afraid. Unless you want to concede that you are property of the government, then there is only one solution to this dilemma – every citizen has to have access to ALL information and must be free to make decisions for themselves. No government intervention! –

Such a novel idea! – we should found a country based on that concept.

So how does a guy feel really good about being able to beat a girl? Try as hard as they might, a  transgender guy posing as a woman, still has all of nature’s  accouterments that generally make him stronger than a woman. This is not a matter of political whim, it’s a fact of nature. (To expect people to believe otherwise is actually rather insulting.) The real solution, if we are to accept without thought, that there should be no separation between a transgender man and women in competing athletics is to neutralize the whole purpose for having separate competitions at all.  If they are to compete as if they are the same then what is the point? What is really most perplexing about the whole debate is that we are all expected to hang our brains on a hook behind the door in analyzing the issue, and to cheer like idiots as though there is some great achievement when a man beats out a bunch of girls.

Kamut International, a Montana-based company, is celebrating 35 years since introducing the ancient grain — KAMUT Brand khorasan wheat — to the market. What started with 36 kernels, with the legend of them having been discovered in an Egyptian tomb, has grown to be a family enterprise spanning three generations that today is a well-known global brand in the world of organic farming and food.

Today, some 300 farms throughout Montana and Canada produce the product that was first introduced at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, California.

It’s potential was recognized by Bob Quinn of Big Sandy Montana.  It was his vision and leadership as a progressive farmer from North Central Montana, that put Kamut International at the forefront of regenerative organic agriculture and to promoting the philosophy of “food as medicine” as a means of promoting health and prevention of diet-related chronic diseases.

From 36 kernels and legends of discovery in an Egyptian tomb, KAMUT Brand khorasan wheat, an ancient grain, is guaranteed to never be hybridized or genetically modified, always organically grown, prized for its nutrition, ease of digestibility, sweet nutty-buttery taste and firm texture, can be found throughout the world in products including breads, pasta, pizza, cereals, snacks, pastries, crackers, beer, green foods, and cereal drinks.

The fascinating story of KAMUT Brand khorasan wheat began in 1964 when Bob saw for the first time at the age of 16 while attending a nearby county fair, an unusual-looking grain referred to as “King Tut Wheat.” After finishing his Ph.D. in Plant Biochemistry, Bob remembered the grain and developed an idea that would eventually transform his life and life’s work.

Research and the pursuit of knowledge and understanding have always been Bob’s passion and the center of his focus. His journey with KAMUT Brand khorasan wheat has been motivated by the question, “Why do people report that they can eat and enjoy KAMUT khorasan wheat despite not being able to consume other wheat products?” Reflecting on the evolution of this journey, Bob admits not having any idea that 35 years later, the same ancient grain that he first saw in his youth would be planted on up to 100,000+ acres in a single year in Montana and Saskatchewan and would be exported all over the world to be made into organic food products.

After many decades of dedication and hard work, Bob is ready to step down from his role as president of Kamut International and give the next generation the opportunity. “I was always hoping that someone from the family would take over for me. My dad passed it on to me, and I’m now passing the hat on to my nephew Trevor Blyth,” Bob says, adding, I have great confidence in Trevor. For the past 15 years, he has grown with and been running the business side of Kamut International, helping to build a global brand.”

Excited about his new role as Kamut International president, Trevor Blyth said he is honored, not only for the opportunity to further the KAMUT Project and take KAMUT Brand wheat to another level, but because this is also a part of the family’s story. “KAMUT Brand khorasan wheat itself is amazing, but on top of that, it inspires me to be able to continue our commitment to providing people with healthy and nutritious food and at the same time contributing to improving the health of the environment.”

The Quinn family farm has served as Bob’s working laboratory to test, document, and share his findings with farmers and thought leaders in the U.S. and worldwide. Among more recent accomplishments was leading the First International Conference of Wheat Landraces in the summer of 2018. Bob’s ongoing research projects have helped further an understanding of the differences between ancient wheat and modern wheat and how starting with healthy soils produces healthy food and healthy people.

While Bob hands things over to the next generation, Trevor comments, “Bob, even though I don’t expect you to, I’m telling you that you don’t get to just ride off into the sunset. You know I’ll be calling on you for your advice.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

The Billings City Council has adopted new regulations for the massage therapy business in Billings. The additional laws that will control how business owners provide their services are aimed at tripping up sex and human trafficking criminals who operate under the guise of being massage therapy businesses.

Hearings were held on April 12 and April 26.  After months of discussion, debate and revisions the proposed ordinance still encountered proposed amendments during hearings, to make it more palatable to therapists who strongly, and often passionately, opposed the regulations, saying that their legitimate businesses are being misused as a shortcut to address a law enforcement failure to enforce existing laws.

Advocates and law enforcement, however, say they need more tools to deal with a human trafficking problem that has grown so extreme that it draws worldwide attention to Billings. The human trafficking involves luring women from, usually Asian countries, to Billings where they are then enslaved for commercial sex activity. The human trafficking element also poses risks for the abduction of young people locally.

Mayor Bill Cole supported the ordinance saying that as revised, the regulation is considerably less intrusive than what it was in its initial version. City Councilwoman Penny Ronning is credited with have spearheaded the campaign to implement the ordinance, and several proponents applauded her perseverance and efforts.

Only three city council people opposed the adoption of the regulation – Pam Purinton, Danny Choriki and Frank Ewalt – mostly on the grounds that it overly burdens the legitimate operation of small business owners.

City Council Member Danny Choriki said, “It still bothers me that we are using business licenses… it is a bad precedence. …it is still a bad solution… it is too much of a shortcut for law enforcement.” 

The council rejected an amendment, proposed by Purinton, that would have sunsetted the ordinance in two years, at which time the council could evaluate whether it was succeeding in its purpose, revise it, renew it or suspend it. Mayor Cole opposed the amendment saying he felt that to believe the law could be terminated in two years would give criminals the idea that if they could just wait it out, the restrictions and additional licensing requirements would go away.

Considering that the problem of prostitution and sex trafficking has been an on-going issue in Billings for decades, to sunset the law in just two years is “a bad idea,” said Councilwoman Kendra Shaw. Two years is not enough time to determine the effectiveness of the ordinance, she said.

That sex and human trafficking has been a long-term problem in Billings was underscored by several of those testifying regarding the ordinance – on both sides of the issue.

“In 1979 Tokyo Sauna opened and everyone knew what it was and it was just shut down in 2019,” pointed out one massage therapist during public comment. She continued, “Prostitution is against the law and there were sting operations… and they never shut them down and shame on our city…”

Now they come “into our legitimate operations and shut us down…. I feel like I am being attacked and put into a position of making me a prostitute at my business, and I have been doing this for 24 years.”

City Administrator Chris Kukulski said that Billings is patterning their ordinance and strategy after that of Aurora, Colorado, a city that claims they were able to eliminate their commercial sex after enacting the ordinance.

His claim was rebutted by one of massage therapists, who said that all that happened in Aurora was that the establishments moved a few miles down the road outside the city limits – a concern that was mentioned several times in the testimony about the potential outcome locally.

Repeatedly citizens declared that the real solution has to come from law enforcement and if that requires the citizens paying higher taxes to get the needed personnel then that is what has to be done.

The current ordinance will be complaint-driven and overseen by code enforcement staff in Billings in cooperation with the law enforcement.

Councilman Frank Ewalt challenged the effectiveness of heightening restrictions on massage therapy businesses.

He read from an earlier statement from Police Chief Rich St. Johns about policing of commercial sex enterprises and human trafficking: “Candidly speaking it is low priority…we know they are out there, but they are difficult to police. Investigations are challenging. Victims fail to cooperate because they do not trust law enforcement. Currently a successful prosecution is beyond our resources, specialization and scope. You are investigating criminals who are business savvy, well-organized, adept at hiding resources, and changing tactics.”

“What will this ordinance change about that?” questioned Ewalt, “Will police all of a sudden have a high priority? Are these businesses not going to be as savvy? Are these businesses going to be less adept at hiding their resources?” Ewalt noted that they have had only one complaint filed.

Complaints are low, conceded St. Johns. It is difficult to get victims to come forward, he said, adding, “This is another tool we use.”

“It is not going to change the scope of what we need to put a case together,” said St. Johns, but he vowed, “If you give us a complaint we will follow up on that.”

The ordinance requires that massage therapists obtain a city license in addition to the state licensing they must have, pass a back ground check, and it dictates hours of operation, staffing, records and bookkeeping, and unlocked doors.

A common complaint from the business owners was that they were not included in the process of trying to develop a solution to the problem, however others said that they were involved in the process and supported the ordinance.

“We have tried to give you examples of things and you just keep shutting us down. I am appalled that you don’t give us credit. Like we don’t know what we are doing. Where is your team work with us? Have you met with all of us? No, you haven’t, and you do have an agenda and I am sorry you haven’t worked with us.”

At that point, Mayor Cole asked her not to make her comments personal. ”You would not want us to make those views personal,” he said.

The woman responded emphatically, “It is personal to me. It is very personal to us. It is very personal to each of us.”

Commented another massage therapist, “I have been told that this ordinance does not apply to me…  it pertains to everyone… it does nothing to stop the illicit sex trafficking. We have a lot of ordinances already in force that are not being used.”

A general question was asked about what happens to the victims of human trafficking. “As far as I know we have no victim services. We have to do something.”

Kukulksi said, “I don’t have any involvement. I don’t know what our community offers for services.”

Some of the business owners expressed concern about HYPPA restrictions (privacy of personal information) in the ordinance requirement that they make all their records available to police upon demand.

City Attorney Gina Dahl said that the requirement would not be in violation of HYPPA, nor is it a violation of the Constitution, as some had proclaimed.

To develop a plan to extend water and sewer into the TEDD in Lockwood was given a green light by county commissioners in discussions last week with Big Sky EDA staff.

“Get started,” directed Don Jones, Chairman of the Board of Yellowstone County Commissioners.

EDA Director Steve Arveschoug said that they would like to be ready to apply immediately for funds from the state as soon as the State Legislature determines how they want to utilize some of the funds they will receive under the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan (ARP).

The State of Montana is expecting to be allotted $2.7 billion in funds from the ARP, and Yellowstone County is expecting to be allotted $31,283,142, the most of any county in the state.

The House in the Montana Legislature has passed HB-632, and the Senate is currently debating the bill, which directs how to spend almost $2 billion of the $2.7 billion. A focus of the state legislature is to build up Montana infrastructure. The legislature has proposed that $150 million be spent on infrastructure, including water and sewer system development.

While the state legislature is moving forward with HB-632, they are still anticipating more direction from the US Department of the Treasury before finalizing details.

But once the State has finalized their program there may not be a lot of time in which to prepare a project for application, said Arveschoug, a point with which Commissioners seemed to agree. Applications to the state may be due as soon as July 1 with the awards announced in mid-October.

One of Yellowstone County’s top priorities is the development of the TEDD (Targeted Economic Development District) which involves the development of an industrial park at the intersection of Johnson Lane and I-90. One of the basic steps in its development is to extend water and sewer lines from the Lockwood Water and Sewer District (LWSD) across Johnson Lane and into the TEDD district.

“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” said Thom MacLean, project manager for EDA, “This could be the catalyst.” A TEDD functions like a “tif” district in that infrastructure is funded from tax revenues in the increment above the level at which the district was created. But, the tax revenue only increases when development happens, and development doesn’t happen without some basic infrastructure.

The “sooner the better,” urged Dianne Lehm, EDA’s Director of Community Development, “This could be an opportunity to move the TEDD forward and to get it started.” Moving forward entails the engagement of an engineering firm to prepare preliminary plans, designs and cost estimates.

“It is an initial piece… get some ball park figures,” said Commissioner John Ostlund.

“This is such an important project,” said Commissioner Denis Pitman, “This screams everything, economic development.”

“We’ve been at this six years… a lot of people don’t realize how important this project is,” said Woody Woods, who heads the TEDD advisory board, appointed by County Commissioners, who have oversight of the TEDD. “It is a game changer that will bring a lot of business and a lot of jobs.”

The Manager of the Lockwood Water and Sewer District, Mike Ariztia, was also at the meeting and said that the effort has the full support of LWSD. “Anything we can do to affect the costs is a crucial step to move forward,” he said.

The TEDD was on hold for a year while an agreement was ironed out with the City of Billings regarding the treatment of sewage, but that issue was resolved and property owners are currently in the process of applying for inclusion in the Lockwood Water and Sewer District.

MacLean further pointed out that they are also under the gun to get the project underway before the Montana Department of Transportation begins building the Johnson Lane Interchange, which is expected to begin construction next year.

MacLean said that they are estimating that extending the utility lines will cost around $1 million, given that an engineering firm’s estimate in 2019 was $800,000.

Another project that might also be considered for ARP funding, said MacLean, is to build the TEDD access road further north, which would cost about $5 million.

HB-632 allocates money for water and wastewater projects, broadband infrastructure, school districts, economic stabilization grants for businesses, housing and mortgage assistance and a range of health and human services including COVID vaccines and testing, mental health and child care services.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is overseeing the distribution of the ARP funds and is in the processing of writing rules.

Although subject to change, it is projected that some $339 million will be allotted to counties and cities in Montana, above and beyond the State’s $2.7 billion allotment.

Montana counties will receive a total of $207,282,912. Payments will be made in two phases – the first within 60 days of enactment of the law, and the second payment no earlier than 12 months after the first payment.

While Yellowstone County gets the largest allotment of any county in the state, Golden Valley County will receive the lowest, $159,228.

Among the other urban counties, Missoula will receive $23,195,684; Cascade $15,780,435; Flathead $29,132,534; Gallatin $22,193,770; Lewis & Clark $13,465,909; Silver Bow $6,771,549 and Ravalli $8,495, 904.

And for some other counties payments will be: Carbon $2,080,048; Stillwater $1,870,007, Fergus $2,143,079; Jefferson  $2,370,188, Treasure $134,985;Rosebud $1,733,276; Richland $2,095,175; Bighorn $2,583,138; Custer $2,211,348. .

While the Montana State Legislature has authority of how to spend the $2.7 billion, other funds will be issued for specific purposes and directed to specific entities such as the community health centers. In Montana 14 centers will receive over $24 million for COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment. Receiving funds are: Billings (Riverstone, the county health department), Butte, Cut Bank, Great Falls, Hamilton, Hardin, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Libby, Livingston, Missoula and Shelby. Allotments range from less than $200,000 to more than $3 million.

Another $81 million of ARP funds will go to the state’s university system of which half may be used for student assistance.

Other funds will be distributed by the Department of the Treasury directly to entities such as school districts, agencies providing nutrition, airports and public transit systems.

According to the Rockefeller Institute of Government:

The total funds disbursed to cities and municipalities in Montana is $48 per capita, ranking the state 45th in the nation on a per capita basis.

Montana’s $2.7 billion allotment is $852 per capita, ranking it as the 10th highest among the states. The counties in the state are getting  $194 per capita, 49th highest among the states.

New York City is getting the highest allotment per capita at $316.

New York ranks 3rd per capita for allotments to counties. Pennsylvania is first with $222 per capita. Illinois ranked 4th with $200 per capita.

Wyoming ranked in first place in per capita allotment to the State at $1,858.Vermont was 2nd with $1687 per capita. Alaska was 3rd with $1393.

In overall funding – state, counties and cities — California, New York, Texas, and Florida received the most. Montana was second to last, only Alaska got less.

The project management team overseeing the renovation of Big Sky Economic Development’s new headquarters and entrepreneurship center opened bids on April 6. While they had anticipated the possibility that bids may exceed the proposed budget they were still “taken back” that the one bid they received was a million dollars over budget.

But the county’s economic development agency remains confident that they will be able to move forward with the project to renovate the former Montana National Bank Building located at 201 N Broadway under Sky Point into what will be the agency’s new headquarters, as well as a new entrepreneurial business incubator for the Rock 31 Entrepreneur Program.

Big Sky EDA is currently located at Granite Towers at 222 North 32nd Street.

“We had one strong bid, from a good contract with very good subs,” said EDA Director Steve Arveschoug on a positive note. “The reason we didn’t get more bids, is the subcontractors are slammed right now. Their ability to take on projects is really constrained. It is going to take longer and it is going to be more costly because of a lack of trades,” said Arveschoug, who had been contacted prior to bid opening by contractors who had been interested in the project but said they would not be able to put in a bid because they could not find the subcontractors.

The problem is not unique to the EDA project – throughout the region reports are the same – construction projects are being put on hold because of a lack of construction workers, as well as because of a steep escalation in the price of building materials.

While EDA developed a budget for what was expected to cost about $3 million, the bid they received from TW Clark Construction was $4,075,000. TW Clark is a Spokane-based company with Billings’ offices at 609 Charles Street.

Arveschoug said that they will be looking for gap funding and doing some value engineering to make TW Clark’s bid work and to complete the project, which they hope to have built within one year. “We have a good project management team. Some of the leading contractors in the community,” said Arveschoug, noting, too, that the joint Big Sky EDA and EDC boards at a meeting last week urged that they move forward.

They must have a “game plan” within the next 30 days according to the parameters of the $2.1 million federal grant Big Sky EDA received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2019 for the purchase of the building and renovation.

“We are going to look at American Rescue Funds that are coming to the state. They are designed to come to the rescue for economic recovery,” said Arveschoug, pointing out that their project qualifies on at least two fronts for COVID-impact funding.  EDA’s mission is to assist businesses in economic recovery and the increased costs and limited labor they are encountering are a consequence of the pandemic.

Also, the U.S. Economic Development Administration is not surprised at the outcome of the bidding process. “The regional director for the Economic Development Administration said they have seen these issues with projects all across the region. All of the region’s re-development projects that they are funding are experiencing additional costs,” said Arveschoug.

From the beginning the federal grant has been matched by local funding. There are other options for additional grant funding, including Big Sky EDA reserves and those of its sister member organization Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The two agencies provided $2 million in matching funds for the federal grant.

Also, Arveschoug reminded that they were able to buy the building because of what was essentially an over $700,000 grant from the building’s owners Chris and Mike Nelson. “They felt very strong about this mission,” said Arveschoug, “So they made their own grant to the project and reduced the cost to us before the EDA made their grant.”

When completed the first floor of the renovated building in downtown Billings will serve as a co-working space with a coffee shop where entrepreneurs can meet and connect. The basement will serve as a work area, and the second floor will be used as a training space. The third floor will house the Big Sky EDA offices.

Big Sky EDA is a county agency serving economic development in Yellowstone County. Through a number of various economic development organizations and programs it provides resources for business creation, retention, new business recruitment and community development.

By Evelyn Pyburn

If we the citizens of the US are to have free speech, without which there is no freedom, then we must create a decentralized web. Everyone can play a role in that.

I must admit, I quite naively was excited about the possibilities of the internet and communications technology when I first came to understand what they could do. Understanding that there is nothing more important to advance freedom than the free flow of information, I thought this would be the unleashing of the world. This would allow freedom to spread like wildfire because for the first time in history information would be readily available to all.

Goes to show, how little I understood all of the potential for the new technology. And, it also goes to show (along with many more recent events) my naiveté about how quickly people would fall into line at the first crack of the whip.

The fact is the power of free markets to push back against the media giants is all in our hands… the market through competition gives us unimaginable opportunity to undermine even the most powerful corporations. We just have to do it.

While it is important to reverse the law that absolves media giants of all accountability (yes, our Congress granted them that), more important is to have a decentralized web which offers consumers options. And, that’s a matter of “voting with your feet”.

For example, free-speech alternatives to Facebook and Twitter include Gab, Spreely, MeWe, Minds and Parler. Uncensored alternatives to YouTube include Bitchute, Rumble, Brighteon,, and Thinkspot.

As more and more people with differing points of view — media, public health, political watchdogs, civil rights advocates and investigative journalists — are censored and de-platformed —they are moving to other web options and creating other competitive information communities. Each citizen may join them and each citizen has the opportunity to participate in what is really a very practical freedom movement.

And, there are a lot of other things happening to address this attack on our freedom of speech. We just don’t hear about them so much because, of course, the media does not report that kind of news. There are cybersecurity experts and billionaire philanthropists who are right now working to preserve personal freedoms and liberties, and – according to some “unapproved” reports – they are re-doing the entire internet by implementing a strategy proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the “world wide web” graphical interface, 30 years ago. He did not license his technology and so delivered the “world wide web” free of charge to the world.

You can safeguard your online privacy by encrypting your text messages, which keeps them from becoming data mining fodder. Download the Signal or Telegram app and/or use a virtual private network (VPN) on your desktop, laptop and mobile devices.

Telegram has grown in popularity, as many who have been banned on other social media platforms have migrated there. In addition to encrypting your text messages, the app also allows you to subscribe to channels for “Read-only” messages that can be sent to your phone from any channel to which you subscribe.

For searches, check out DuckDuckGo and SwissCows – they do not collect and store your data. For a browser, consider Brave or Opera. From a security perspective, Opera is far superior to Google Chrome and even includes a free VPN service. For encrypted email, sign up with ProtonMail. As for online document sharing, Digital Trends has published an article listing a number of alternatives to Google Docs.

Lastly, if you care about privacy and free speech, stop using any and all Google products, including all its search engines, browser, advertising, email service, Google docs, Google Home devices, Fitbit and Android phones. There are alternatives to all of them.

Google was among the first – like 20 years ago —to eagerly go to China to advise the dictators on how to control their citizens’ use of new communications technology, and how to best use new technology to intercept and censor news to their citizens from around the world.

It’s true that finding alternatives is inconvenient. And, it may be that alternatives are not as effective, but they will probably get more effective as more people use them. But no matter the inconvenience or whatever sacrifices may be necessary, it’s a small price — very small price, indeed — to have to pay to stand up to tyranny and to do your part to fight for freedom.

We are in a battle – a worldwide battle – for freedom, every bit as much as were our forefathers 300 years ago …and just like then, we all have a role to play. When considering its potential imposition upon you, envision the blood trails in the snow from the frozen feet of Revolutionary War soldiers, most of whom did not have coats or shoes, as they crossed the Delaware River in the dead of night during a blizzard on Christmas Eve, to do battle for the freedom for you to be inconvenienced.

No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.” Montana Law

By Evelyn Pyburn

Mid-March we recognize National Sunshine week – it is a time to focus on the importance of open public meetings and public document availability.

Montana is at the leading edge when it comes to having good public information laws. Our public information requirements are more stringent than federal laws or the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but sadly Montana does not lead the way in complying with those laws. A (2019) study conducted by Logicull ranked the State of Montana among the least compliant with our own laws.

Having spent many years reporting on a wide variety of public entities, I know without doubt, that there is nothing more important to assure sound, honest government than shining light on all that happens in government. The Bill of Rights and honest democratic elections are very important, but even those things cannot be assured unless the public is informed about what government is doing.  Checks and balances in how government is structured is also important, but even that can be useless if there is no “sunshine” on all proceedings and decisions.

Just think about it. How can citizens be expected to vote on candidates and issues if they do not have accurate information? Without unfettered information the idea of democratic elections is but a charade (something that should be just as readily understood when information and communication platforms are being censored).

I have learned a lot in observing how public bodies function and I have seen how devastating a lack of transparency can be, most especially those serving in a public capacity, who are often responsible for violating the law. In fact, I would refuse to serve on a public body that was not open in order to protect myself from the consequences.  Not unlike other aspects of life, avoiding truth has a way of boomeranging sooner or later, and often in ways least anticipated and most unpleasant.

Most people do not realize how powerful our laws make our citizens, and that they do have the right to know – they have the right to be powerful in their own defense! The fact that an informed citizenry is a powerful citizenry is the primary reason that public officials hide information. That alone should convince one about how important the right to know is.

One of the most amazing experiences I ever had involved informing people about their right to know. It happened during my earliest years as a reporter when I wasn’t all that confident about things. My editor, as a matter of routine, gave all reporters business cards with the Montana public information law printed on it. At a meeting in Belgrade, Montana, a newly formed garbage district board wanted to hold a meeting to do things contrary to what the public wanted. There was standing room only in the meeting room and the board was frustrated in its efforts to ignore that public, and so arbitrarily decided they could avoid the problem by moving to another room.

Everyone in the room sat dejected about not being able to be part of the meeting. I knew the board was violating law, but I was timid about speaking up. I pulled out my handy little card thinking about what to do. The gentleman sitting next to me glanced over and began avidly reading it. I passed him the card so he could better read it. He then passed the card to the next guy, and then got up and followed the board members down the hall. The next guy, after reading the card, did likewise. And, one after another, as the card was passed along, everyone followed suit. It was a thrilling moment, as I saw firsthand the power of knowledge.

A lot of the public believes that open meetings and public documents are made available only to the media. Nothing could be further from the truth. Media has traditionally been the defender of those rights but they apply to absolutely everyone and everyone should view themselves as having an important role to play in assuring that every government official and agency complies with public information laws.

Unfortunately, in pursuing public information you should expect push back.  FOIA advocacy groups report that not only can one expect it but “When it comes to compliance with open records laws, the barriers put up to obstruct requests (or lack thereof), and the general difficulty of making government records public, States vary wildly.”

“Come back tomorrow,” is a common put off aimed at discouraging. But you should know that information generally should be available during reasonable, regular business hours.

You cannot be required to explain why you want the information, nor for that matter do you even have to identify yourself.

While a government employee may declare they have to get approval of a supervisor, that is not a requirement of law. Public information is public information, and fundamentally it is every government employee’s obligation to provide it.

While it is commonly accepted that you can be charged for costs involved, such as copying charges, the charges must be true costs. You cannot, for example, be charged an outrageous per hour cost pertaining to the amount of time a bureaucrat spends getting the information.

Having said that, many FOIA advocates believe there should be no charge at all by government to produce information to citizens… in fact, providing public information should not only be part of their regular duties but a top priority. The Montana legislature, however, did pass a law allowing for agencies to ask citizens to reimburse for costs.

There is a limiting provision to Montana’s public information laws and that is to protect the individual’s right to privacy. As one can imagine in an  attempt to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy, the competing provisions often lead to conflict. But court cases in Montana have quite often strengthened the citizen’s right to know.

So while a government employee’s personal information regarding health or address, family, religion, etc. is not public information, that they are a government employee, their job description, salary and benefits, or job performance are all public information. In fact one Montana court case concluded that even the job evaluation of a school superintendent should be open to the public and the results should be a matter of public record. Another case concluded that even an insurance company’s nondisclosure requirements in a settlement with the county was not valid – the settlement has to be a matter of public record.

Government quite often likes to claim that they can’t provide information such as who holds licenses or permits and their addresses or incomes, etc. on the grounds that it is private information but at that point there emerges a quandary, because since government is requiring the information or the fees or otherwise exercising control, it is a public concern. But, it is also private information. The fact of the matter is the individual’s privacy has indeed been violated, but it has been violated by government, and the public’s right to know should not be sacrificed because government has over-reached what its authority should be.

As government gains more and more power and over-reaches on a routine basis with no checks, this is likely to become an increasing dilemma and stands as a potential threat to the very fundamentals of freedom of information. There is only one thing that stands in the way of losing this most important of citizen rights and that is you and me using that right and demanding its adherence.

by Evelyn Pyburn

Getting beef from farm to your dinner plate has always been a rather complicated and intricate business, but as consumers demand and expect more, there is another dimension being added to its complexity.

With over 65 percent of consumers saying they want to know more about the foods they eat, a relatively new industry is emerging, one that consumers should know more about in order to reap its benefits. The new dimension is third party verifiers — companies that monitor and audit producers of beef and other products to make sure that the claims they make about their product are true. Otherwise, questions Lainie White, owner of the Great Alone Cattle Company, “How would you know that what I say is true?”

There is much changing about the beef industry and in order to better familiarize consumers with what is going on, White recently sponsored a “Local Meat” seminar. White owns and operates a four-generation cattle ranch at Two Dot, Montana. “Our cattle are raised in the fresh air and running streams where the Big Sky brushes the Crazy Mountains of Montana,” reads their website, “The company and the ranch work to partner with our community of customers so you can enjoy all of the benefits of beef for health, well-being, and a great meal while enhancing our ranching legacy.”

Explaining third party verifiers at the event was Kelsey (Haughian) Aye, a customer verification specialist for Where Food Comes From, a top provider of certification and verification services based in Colorado.

Aye oversees and assigns auditors to visit farms and ranches (about 400 in Montana) to look at their operations, know the people involved, examine their documentation and records to make sure that they adhere to a specific set of standards. That they are actually doing what they claim to do. They authenticate and make transparent to consumers information about their food. Consumers have a right to trust that the information they get is authentic, accurate, and unbiased, said Aye.

Third party verification adds to the cost of production but producers who do it find their products bring more at market, more than enough to make it worthwhile. But, most say they pursue the process, not for increased returns, but because they have a passion for providing high quality products raised in sustainable ways that respect the land as well as their customers.  At the same time achieving all those goals imposes greater work and many additional costs, for which the producer should be compensated.

Aye said that in their consumer surveys, when asked whether they will pay more for products labeled as being verified and certified, consumers usually say they will pay one to two dollars more above regular price. Their surveys also indicate that most consumers like knowing details about where and how their food is grown. They like to know “the story,” she said.

The service is available not only to the beef industry but to a wide range of other producers as well, including poultry, pork, lamb, and, vegetable producers, honey, vineyards, flowers, etc. Where Food Comes From is an umbrella organization for several divisions each of which targets a specific industry, such as the IMI Global Beef Passport Program which certifies beef as meeting a set of standards called BEEF CARE. There are also CARE standards for other products such as DAIRY CARE, PORK CARE, POULTRY CARE.

There are a number of aspects of IMI Global, which has been in business for 22 years. Each program specializes in a specific type of livestock producer.  Not only does each type of production have specific needs, but specialized auditors are trained to understand those needs so they can intimately understand each unique business.

IMI is the largest installation resource company in North America. They offer turnkey installation expertise and OEM product deployment in fields such as manufacturing, supply chain, automation and robotics.

To make sure producers meet CARE standards auditors explore three basic aspects of a producers operation:

—Animal Care. They make sure the animals are as healthy and content as possible. Things they look at are spacing, access to food and water, nutrition plans, how animals are transported, etc.

— Environmental Stewardship. Consumers want to know that the farms and ranches have procedures and management plans in place. .

— People and Community. They make sure that the producer treats employees right, with worker safety protocols, emergency preparedness, and succession planning.

All programs require that an animal have an EID tag or in some manner can verify its age. EID tags are small “button-like” tags that are placed in the ear, although increasingly electronic cattle tags are used. The tags must be attached before an animal leaves its birth ranch and it is used to monitor the animal through each stage of processing.

In order to be verified as natural beef a calf must never have had any growth hormones, nor antibiotics. No ionophores (feed enhancers) or animal by-products. Many of the restrictions and certifications of them are required by many countries before they will accept beef as an import.

Certified meat products found at the meat counter may or may not be labeled as such, but whatever label a producer wants to put on their package, it must be approved by the USDA. They can even dictate the colors of a logo, explained Aye.

Cattle are still king when it comes to total agriculture production in Montana. As a percentage of total revenue generated cattle production amounts to 56 percent with crops generating most of the balance. The market value of agricultural products sold was $3.5 billion with crop-related sales totaling $1.6 billion and livestock-related sales totaling $1.9 billion.

After subtracting production expenses of $3.3 billion, net cash income was $0.9 billion based upon most recent available data, in a study conducted by The Montana State University Agricultural Economics Department.

Agriculture has long been considered the foundation of the Montana economy. While other sectors of the economy, particularly tourism and business services, have become important to the state’s overall economy, agriculture remains critical to Montana, especially more rural areas of the state.

Agricultural Land Use

62% of the land in Montana is used for agricultural production. However, the percentage of land in agriculture varies from less than 3% in Mineral and Lincoln counties to nearly 100% in Big Horn, Liberty, Treasure, and Sheridan counties. There were 27,048 farms with a mean farm size of 2,758 acres in 2017.  Average farm size varied from less than 200 acres in Flathead, Mineral, and Ravalli and over 8,000 acres in Big Horn and Garfield counties.

Farm Revenue

The market value of agricultural products sold was $3.5 billion with crop-related sales totaling $1.6 billion and livestock-related sales totaling $1.9 billion.  Other income included on the farm’s profit and loss statement was government payments ($0.3 billion) and other farm related income ($0.4 billion).  After subtracting production expenses of $3.3 billion, net cash income was $0.9 billion in 2017.

Property Taxation

Montana farmers and ranchers owned property with a taxable value of $157 million in 2017.  The taxable value of agricultural property was less than 1% of all taxable property in Montana.  The share of taxable property held by farmers and ranchers varied widely by county from less than 1% in urban counties like Missoula, Flathead, Silver Bow, and Yellowstone to over 40% in rural counties such as Liberty, Daniels, McCone, Petroleum, and Garfield.

Market Value of Crops and Livestock from 1997 to 2017

After adjusting for inflation, the market value of crops and livestock increased by 14% and 28%, respectively, from 1997 to 2017.  The percentage change varied widely by county from increases of 68% or more in Carter and Treasure counties to decreases of 40% or more in counties with fewer farms and ranches, including Lincoln, Silver Bow, and Mineral. The share of market value for crops and livestock has remained relatively stable since 1997 with crop and livestock shares of 40% and 60%, respectively.  Grain (winter wheat, spring wheat, durum, and barley) comprised 31% of total market value, while cattle comprised 56% of total market value in 2017.

Farm Size

 Farm size remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2017 with 60% of farms with less than 500 acres and 40% of farms with 500 acres or more. Average farm size decreased by 20% or more in Glacier, Judith Basin, and Beaverhead; but, increased by 20% or more in Chouteau, Daniels, Liberty, Roosevelt, Deer Lodge, Big Horn, McCone, and Sanders counties.

The 2017 year was a challenging year with nearly three-fourths of Montana counties realizing less total farm sales in 2017 than 2012.  Average farm sales decreased by nearly 14% statewide.  Four counties (Prairie, Deer Lodge, Carbon, and Liberty) had average farm sales increase by 25%, while three counties (Petroleum, Daniels, and Mineral) had average farm sales decrease more than 40%

Tillage and Land Use

In 2017, no till was used by 16%, reduced tillage was used by 8%, intensive tillage was used by 10% and cover crops were used by 4% of farms.  More than 40% of farms utilize no-till in Liberty, Chouteau, Toole, Hill, Pondera, and Sheridan counties.  More than 20% of farms in Treasure and Sheridan counties utilize other reduced tillage methods.  Cover crops are less widely used; although, more than 7% of farms used cover crops in Treasure, Toole, and Jefferson counties.

Producer Profile

Deer Lodge, Meagher, Sanders, Daniels, Wheatland, Flathead, Jefferson, Ravalli, Lincoln, Golden Valley, Missoula, Musselshell, and Granite had more than 40% of producers 65 and older.  Judith Basin, Phillips, Carter, Hill, Fallon, Petroleum, Glacier, and Rosebud had less than 30% of producers 65 and older.  Thirty-two percent of producers were 65 or older, 58% were males, and 36% listed farming as their primary occupation in Montana.

Top Crops

Hay and winter, spring, and durum wheat account for 75% of harvested acreage.  The remainder of harvested acres is planted in barley, pulses (lentils, dry edible peas, chickpeas, and other pulse crops) and other crops, including oilseeds (canola, flaxseed, mustard, and safflower), corn for grain and silage, sugar beets, potatoes, and other minor crops.

The top 5 producing counties in 2017 for each of the major crop categories was the following:  hay – Fergus, Madison, Big Horn, Lake, and Judith Basin in 2017;  winter wheat  – Chouteau, Hill, Cascade, Teton, and Liberty; spring wheat – Chouteau, Hill, Valley, Toole, and Liberty counties; durum wheat – Sheridan, Daniels, Roosevelt, Pondera, and Hill counties; pulses – Sheridan, Hill, Chouteau, Roosevelt, and Toole counties; and, barley – Teton, Pondera, Chouteau, Toole, and Gallatin.

Montana is largely a grain and cattle state.  Over 40% of farms had cattle (and calves), 5% had sheep (and lambs), and less than 2% had hogs (and pigs) in 2017 .  The top 5 livestock producing counties were Beaverhead, Custer, Fergus, Carter, and Rosebud counties in 2017.

Job Impacts

Agricultural production employed 52,629 workers or 10% of the state’s labor force in 2017.  According to MSU, 31,924 of the workers were directly employed in production agriculture.  An additional 15,597 workers were employed in businesses supporting agricultural production, such as feed and fertilizer dealers, and another 3,980 were employed in other related businesses, such as grocery and drug stores.  For every 10 jobs on farms and ranches, 6 additional jobs are generated in Montana.

Direct and indirect employment in production agriculture was more than 60% of the labor force in Liberty, Treasure, Judith Basin, Carter, Prairie, and Chouteau counties (Map 9).  In more urban counties (Missoula, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Yellowstone, and Gallatin), direct and indirect employment in agricultural production was less 5% of the labor force.

Value Added Impacts

 Farms and ranches generated $2.2 billion of valued-added, or 4.6% of the state’s total gross domestic product of $47.6 billion in 2017.  According to the IMPLAN estimate, $1.1 billion was directly contributed by farmers and ranchers.  An additional $820 million was generated by businesses supporting agricultural production and $236 million was generated by other related businesses.  Each dollar of value-added in agriculture by a farmer or rancher contributed an additional $0.92 of value-added in other sectors of the state’s economy.

Direct and indirect value-added in production agriculture was more than 50% of county gross domestic product (GDP) in Prairie, Petroleum, Garfield and Carter counties (Map 10).  In more urban counties (Missoula, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Cascade, Yellowstone, and Gallatin), direct and indirect value-added in agricultural production was less 5% of county GDP.


Agricultural production varies substantially across Montana.  Land use patterns varied from counties with minimal arable land to counties with over three-fourths of the land area used in crop or livestock agriculture.  The Census Agriculture data showed minor changes in farm size (measured by acres and total sales) and profitability.  This economic impact analysis showed the importance of recognizing the diversity in Montana agriculture.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Good grief. One can hardly imagine why anyone in the US can doubt the quality and dependability of services and products from the private sector – most especially when one compares it to how government performs. And, yet it is we have legislators and professionals and other leaders pushing back against private medical schools simply because they are “for profit.” Really!?

Following announcements by two private companies that intend to launch medical schools in Montana – one in Billings and another in Great Falls – comments emerged in the media from some people who were outraged at the very idea of “for profit” medical schools, including a Republican state legislator– Ed Buttrey, (R) – HD21 of Great Falls a Realtor also sits on the board of Benefis Healthcare.

With people like Mr. Buttrey refusing to defend “for profit” free markets, there’s no need for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to advocate for socialism. The situation fully demonstrates why so many people, especially the young, believe that socialism is a better system than free markets. It’s not because of what people like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez says, but what people like Mr. Buttrey fail to say.

For decades and decades our political leaders, who say they believe in the efficacy of free markets (ie. “for profits”), while campaigning, fail to support them once elected and even more damaging fail to explain what makes them better. Not only have they failed to make the case but so have our public schools and so have many parents, truth be told.

In fact, one could ask where are the voices of all the other political leaders and free marketers in this state who claim to support “for profits”? Where are the voices we need to explain why the “for profit” motive has proven to be a miraculous thing.

It’s been reported that “Benefis’ Dr. Patrick Galvas and Great Falls legislator Ed Buttrey slammed” the “business model” of the school proposed for Billings because it is a “for profit” entity, while the one proposed from Great Falls is a “non-profit.”

“In our opinion, medical education is not the place for the profit-driven motivations of a Wall Street-owned, for-profit medical school,” Galvas and Buttrey wrote.

So maybe that’s all this is about – a very self-serving effort to malign the competition. It’s an act of protectionism. That is in truth why most anti-market legislation emerges and what stands behind almost all the regulations that undermine free markets – established businesses attempting to protect themselves from competition.

This is a country where “for profit” is a good thing. Where “for profit” has built the strongest economy in all history, providing the highest standard of living average citizens have ever known, and in fact providing the world with phenomenal new technology and innovations beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. IT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF “FOR PROFIT” ENTERPRISES!

And, you don’t think a profit motive can incentivize a quality medical school? Making a profit is a far more wholesome incentive than climbing the political ladder, which is the primary incentive that permeates almost all government “enterprises” or bureaucracies. In exactly what discipline does government out-perform private business?

In fact our entire medical industry could do with a very healthy dose of free market competition and the injection of creative entrepreneurship. Our shortage of doctors is nothing new – we have been experiencing this shortage for decades and nothing changes. The reasons have primarily to do with the fact that the system is not market driven. The shortage of doctors is all about politics and power structures and the kind of “profits” that come much more easily to that system than to the private market. The medical industry is totally ensnarled in red tape and regulations… it is one of the least free markets in the country, hence we have not only a shortage of doctors but runaway medical costs.

Questioning the efficacy of education organizations because they hope to make a profit is nonsense.

We heard for years and years and years that private schools couldn’t compete with public or government schools. We don’t hear that much anymore. Not that there aren’t those who resist private education but it’s not because private schools aren’t good. There is no longer any question that not only are they good but most often are better. Do you know where President Obama’s girls went to school?

Or let’s look at the post office. There too we heard over and over again that we had to have a government run post office because the private sector could never do what the post office does. Nor, would anyone want to because they couldn’t make a profit. Have you heard of UPS? If there was no threat of the private sector delivering the mail…and maybe doing it better … there would be no laws against delivering first class mail.

The same is true about aerospace and only government could send up rockets. Many may not know, but at one time that too was illegal. Could I introduce you to SpaceX and Elon Musk or any of a dozen other companies?

Given the true history of the profit motive and the history of how “for profit” has built the greatest economic system ever and the highest ever standard of living for the common man, maybe it’s time to learn and understand why it works. And, to make sure our children know.