By Evelyn Pyburn

Many on the Left (Democrats, Progressives, Socialists or whatever term is acceptable) must be quite forlorn nowadays because of how rapidly they are losing ground on multiple fronts— policy and political  strongholds which took them years and decades to establish are being quietly and subtly eroded– with  gun control being at the forefront.

Actually, there are probably some who aren’t forlorn. There are many who are sublimely unaware of what is happening, since it is not readily reported in mainstream media, and with so much censorship of alternative views, the stilted perspective keeps many people in a never-never land.

But, bit by bit. One little report after another, state by state, the losses to the Left mount as state legislatures step up to do what they were always intended to do – protect their citizens from federal overreach.

So it is that 19 states have wiped out almost all gun control measures, returning to a level of citizen ownership and gun possession that hasn’t been seen in a century. The right of citizens to own and carry guns in the US has been strengthened to a point that even the most optimistic gun- right advocates must be astounded.

This and many other liberties are being reclaimed by state legislatures who are exercising their Constitutional powers and authority, as well as reclaiming the rights of their citizens. And they are doing so for a wide range of issues. This is all happening in such a sweeping manner because 38 states are now Red, which in itself has to be seen as a massive repudiation of the progressive agenda.

Their push back has brought forward state laws that have empowered private education, strengthened private property rights, reduced taxes and regulations, unleashed business growth, secured voting processes, fortified law enforcement and challenged legalized abortion. They have also disempowered health departments and local governments, while lifting up the civil liberties of individual citizens to a degree that has surely left many who have noticed, astonished at how quickly and easily it happened once the people and their lawmakers decided to take action.

In just Montana—

— our state legislature has pushed back on federal land seizures through federal monument programs by requiring approval of such efforts by the state legislature, a huge step in protecting private property rights.

—education freedom has been enhanced with increased tax credits for contributions to private school to $200,000.

—the Governor was given more power to appoint judges.

—the power of health officers and unelected bureraucrats was removed.

— the Governor’s power to declare unending emergencies was ended.

—business owners can no longer be subjugated to serve as an extension of law enforcement.

— doctors and dentists may, do business one-on-on with patients, just like a real free market.

—assured that those who vote are eligible to vote.

—and there were also a host of changes in tax law and regulations that unleashed much business and economic activity… the list could go on…

The weight and breadth of the flip flop has to have some Progressives — who were watching in smug satisfaction the orchestrated riots and defunded police, cowed and masked citizens, crumbling economies and generally confident about what they thought they had achieved –  standing in stunned silent. No matter what they thought was their success in seizing power this is most certainly not what they expected.

Of course, the battles are not over, the Left is turning to the only means they have at the moment to fight back – the courts, which remain stacked against the citizens and very pro-government. But, that is not an easy path, even for the Left, because they have to file cases in every state against many aspects of each of hundreds of new laws enacted by the states. 

So while this is no claim to victory it is to hearten anyone who – living in a desert of no honest news reporting – sees only the bad news and haven’t noticed the minimized reports that have pelted us almost daily as state’s have tweaked laws to regain power and restore freedom. This is what we the people can do, but we need to keep it up.

By Evelyn Pyburn

A new law has been passed by the state legislature which prohibits local governments from requiring business owners to act as an extended arm of law enforcement, when ordinances or regulations are too unwieldy for policing and to force compliance through normal law enforcement.

HB-257 was sponsored by Jedediah Hinkle  (R) HD 67. The legislation basically says that municipalities or counties may not compel a private business to deny customers goods or services, nor may local governments take retroactive action against a business for not turning away their customers. 

In introducing his bill to the House, Hinkle said, “…In Gallatin County we have had some of the strictest ordinances” with a devastating impact on business…” many have closed and others are barely hanging on.” He noted that one “hallmark eatery” in Bozeman has closed forever after 35 years in business.

The approach used by health departments across the state, Hinkle likened to “a death by a thousand cuts.” Health departments commandeer private resources to enforce ordinances. Public officials expect that “through fear, threats of revocation of licenses, fines, charges, misdemeanor violations and lawsuits,” business owners will coerce customers and their staffs into compliance. “They use their own tax dollars against them to destroy them in courts,” said Hinkle. The businesses “are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

Hinkle likened the practice of requiring businesses to act as an arm of law enforcement to a takings – when government confiscates without just compensation.

One businessman, Randy Chamberlin,

explained to law makers, “We have to walk a fine line…while employees and customers need to feel safe and confident… we can alienate one side or another.”

“I believe it is totally unfair to make businesses be the enforcement

arm of any government policy, ordinance or regulation,” he proclaimed, “Business people should not be subject or penalized if we do not enforce these ordinances and policies that are being put on us.” The situation creates an unfair situation among businesses, he said, because while some “trying to be good citizens and honestly follow the law” are put at a disadvantage to those who “wouldn’t necessarily do that.

Mike Hope, owner of the Rocking R Bar

 in Bozeman, said he got sued by the county because he refused to close his business at 10 pm. Up until then he said that he and his staff had done everything they could to comply with the mandates. He said he was proud of the extent his staff went to, to make sure everyone was safe. Having to close at 10 pm meant his business would not be able to make enough money to keep his staff employed … “it was about my employees and my industry and what it has done to people around us.” Hope said his business is  facing $40,000 in legal costs. “That is probably a month’s worth of wages for four or five employees.”

He said that he is fortunate in that he has been in business long enough that it had the capital to withstand the financial blow, but most businesses would not be able survive a lawsuit. The Rocking R Bar has been in business since 1947 and Hope has owned it since 2000.

His small business confronted “the whole weight of the state government, because all their expert witnesses were … Montana State employees. .. the county attorney had three attorneys working on it… I had one attorney….”

“What is happening to me is what is the fear of my fellow constituents within my industry. They are afraid. And when government operates from a position of fear …that is not a good position ….This was like a sledge hammer that came down on us.”

“I just think we carried this too far. … If I have respect for the person that doesn’t agree with me and I respect the person that does agree with me, that is how we are going to get through this. ..the  market place is going to drive us to make good decisions . ..because if we don’t take care of our customers and our guests we aren’t going to be in business very long.”

“My property taxes paid the salary of the people that were suing me. I didn’t sue them, they sued me. And the reason they chose to sue me … I was told.. is they could fine me criminally but they couldn’t shut me down. The only way they felt they could shut me down was to sue me. .. When we give up our freedoms , we have to really ask ourselves where we want to live and what we want to be. As a business owner I am 100 percent committed to our community … I am only as good as my community so if I am killing off my community, I am not going to last in business. I think we need to put faith in people to make decisions, not unelected bureaucrats, quite honestly.”

“What I really like is that this bill takes away the ability to sue. Most people don’t have the resources to go and make this fight. That is not a fair fight.” Regarding the health department, he said, “They had all the authority in the world and they used it … it needs to be taken away from them.”

Hope also explained it was difficult getting an attorney, because they too are afraid of the power of the government. “I reached out to four different attorneys before I could get one to agree because they were afraid to take the case because of the retribution they would get. That’s scary. Two days before our court hearing, our two expert witnesses backed out because they were afraid of retribution …We were scrambling. We got expert witnesses lined up now, who have a little more back bone, but that is the type of fear that we are up against. That is not what this country is built on.”

Sarah Capp, also a resident of Gallatin County, talked about the impact on her family as customers trying to navigate their way through local businesses who were intimidated into bullying her and her children, two of whom who have hearing impairments. She said that her nine year old, Liam, has a significant hearing loss. But “ …he is an expert lip reader so you can imagine how the last six months have been on him….each day over the last six months has been a battle for our family, a battle that pits us as paying customers against store employees, managers, business owners, restaurant servers and even medical professionals … It has forced me to explain more times than I can count, ‘our family doesn’t wear masks for the sake and safety of our son… who has a hearing loss.”

This they had to do all the time even though Governor Bullock’s mandate specifically said that those who were exempt from wearing masks should not be asked why they were exempt. “You would be amazed at how many people don’t know that and aren’t aware of that medical exemption. Just imagine as a nine- year- old, and you have a medical exemption that has to be pointed out and explained in front of your face over and over again.”

Capp said, “Many employees have been gracious, many employees have rolled their eyes and sneered at us as though we were lying. And a few even denied our medical exemption and asked us to leave.”

“The mask mandates and business restrictions we have in place today are nothing more than wishful thinking of power-hungry county health officials,  many of which don’t have a bit of health education. As an animal science degree major I have more micro biology and chemistry experience than many of the people who sit on county health boards making these rules,” said Capp.

Doug White is a third generation business owner in Flathead County. He said, “Our small business has the highest traffic count in a small area of any business in our area…we serve 800 to 1600 customers a day, through a 2000 square foot store with a single entrance /exit door, making it virtually impossible to comply with COVID -19.”

He said, “Many businesses in our area have been temporarily closed due to their employees testing positive for COVID 19 – and we are just the opposite. But,  still we have been labeled as an egregious offender…in mid-July the health department called and stated that they had three complaints about our failure to enforce the mask mandate.  As for the health board’s rules we got a phone call after the three complaints as we are supposed to.” But the rules say that a business should get another phone call after ten additional complaints and a follow up visit. “None of this ever happened,” said White, “until the phone calls from the media came, making us aware of the state’s intent to sue …”

“I was contacted on my personal cell phone at  9:30 am by the Flathead Beacon asking me for comments and thoughts about being sued by the Bullock administration  They were aware of this suit eight hours before we were even process served. Fortunately for us the lawsuit was eventually dropped, however it cost us more in legal defenses.”

During the course of trying to be the enforcement arm of the state….  one of my employees was threatened by a customer with a side arm, when he asked the patron to please put on a mask. This young man quit as our employee the very next day, stating that he just couldn’t do what we asked  him to do in enforcing this mandate. He has yet to be replaced.

“Additionally my granddaughter received a profanity –laced slur from a disgruntled patron when she asked them to put on a mask. … as you can see … it is literally dangerous to our employees to be the enforcers of these mandates. They neither have the proper training or know-how to deescalate a situation that may arise.  Also, a private business should not be forced to expend its own financial resources to enforce the mandates of these governmental entities, as you can see  even with our efforts to comply we were still sued.”

Maria Wyrock, Bozeman,

testified, “Our county health board has caused us a lot of stress and undo harm. They have become  one of the most feared agencies acting on their own agenda that simply go beyond promoting health. 

Wyrock said that she was part of a public records request from the Gallatin County Health Board regarding the Governor’s mask mandate. While the agency refused to turn over the records and the county attorney “stonewalled,” they were able to obtain the records through a lawsuit that subpoenaed for the information. “A committee is still going through thousands of emails and text messages,” said Wyrock, “but the overall theme uncovered is how the department is not following the same rules they have laid out for Montana. They are complicit in denying people with disability and medical conditions access to private  businesses while they are aware it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the governor’s exemption in the directive.”

An exchange discovered in the missives, “even more shocking,” underscores why HS 257 is “imperative,” Wyrock continued.  Missoula County Commissioners  said that they think masks should be mandated and enforced. “The County Health Officer said she didn’t want to go there” so the county commissioners “instructed their emergency manager to research ways the commissioners can do it without the health officer.”

“This message is a prime example of the county getting involved to pass ordinances that mandate… a level of enforcement that goes beyond the health board and the health officer.”

“Our Gallatin County Health Board and health department created orders and mandates that they knew were not enforceable on a regular citizen. Even our county sheriff has gone on record and states his office will not enforce these mandates. Instead the department crafted ways that ensure that businesses would become the enforcers , however the same businesses are not getting protection from the police or from the sheriff and especially not from the county attorney  to defend their ability to stay open and their ability to access paying customers.”

Brooke Carlson, Choteau,

said that she too had submitted a public records request last summer and began suffering retaliation from the health department. “I was harassed at my job because of my medical exemption and then slandered and shamed publically on social media by those same health officials. I quit my job after the owner grew tired of the harassment by the health department and because of fear they would fine her for honoring my exemption.”

Carlson further stated, “Those same officials attempted to remove my young children from public schools due to their medical exemption, even though the school accepted it. Our only local grocery store was notified by health officials to discriminate against those with medical exemptions, and so they started calling the police to enforce it. I now have to drive an hour to buy my groceries to feed my family at big box stores that aren’t as fearful of health department harassment. Other small businesses in town, many who survive on the revenue from tourists, were harassed by health department officials and intimidated into denying service to the same community members that were capable of sustaining their businesses with their loyalty.

“These two health department officials used that same harassment technique to photograph unmasked families, particularly those with businesses or jobs at stake, in an attempt to scare them into compliance.  These same officials then turned neighbor against neighbor, stating on the department Facebook page that those who are unmasked are purposely spreading the virus and even went as far as to contact local TV news saying that anyone claiming a medical exemption is just making an excuse.

“I have seen firsthand the effect of giving the health department the power to force individuals and businesses into compliance. They have burned every bridge and caused every small business to exist in constant fear that they will get turned in for non-compliance and literally turn neighbor against neighbor because of fear of fines. I cannot work in my town nor buy food for my three small children. Businesses are losing revenue and local support because of threats from the health department and this is money and support they will never earn back.”

Carlson said she spoke with county commissioners –and  “after six month of no response from them … I walked into their office that morning and discovered that the commissioners were only not active on the health department board but they did not know that by law one of them was required to be on the board. They showed up to their first meeting the next day… they were not given the opportunity to vote because the director of the health department also did not know that they were on the board . This means that not only is the county health department harassing private businesses, schools, individuals, violating open meetings laws, they are acting without voting members participation. This also means that those two women who have been harassing our town …have also been spending all the CARES Act money without any board approval.”

Darin Gaub, Helena,

said that he is completely disabled because of breathing problems and has been denied access to private businesses and goods and services by local health officers. “This bill is much needed to curb systemic discrimination that only began once the health department got heavy-handed after masks were made mandatory and not voluntary.” He further said  his wife, who has a business in which she tutors children with special needs, had to resign her position because she could not wear a mask for more than 30 minutes.

Esther Fishbaugh

operates 39 campgrounds in Montana and Wyoming. They dealt with 165,000 people last year and have 40 employees, she said, and they had no employees  contracted COVID 19. “We did lose employees because they were fearful.”

“I wrote compliance plans over and over and over again,” she said, “as all the directives were changed on us. So it was quite a bit of work to comply with ever changing rules… It was hard for us to hire extra employees to meet that demand…  We just could not get the extra help. .. I lost employees from coming back. They were fearful for their health. They were over-worked…  Supplies were interrupted because of the fear that was out there. .. perpetuated by many of our health departments, which… over-hyped.”  Fishbaugh said that instead of being helpful, “our health department is being adversarial and punitive… instead of collaborative…. instead of looking for ways to minimize how many people had to be quarantined…. how many people had to be shut down.”

Nellie Nicol with the Freedom Protection Project

explained that the organization was  created because of the health departments’ “overbearing and unconstitutional mandates thrust upon small businesses.”  She said, “We do not believe the health board should be issuing fines or threatening the revocation of licenses for noncompliance of these mandates .  Many businesses particularly restaurants run on a thin margin. Imposing fines just adds insult to injury during a time many people are trying to feed their families and pay their mortgages. In times of emergencies most businesses cannot afford to hire an attorney to fight a misdemeanor charge or any other retribution the health board sees fit. Fighting criminal charges just adds to the emotional and financial stress of an already highly stressful situation.  These business owners are already losing sleep at night worrying about keeping their employees’ and their families fed with a roof over their heads. These mandates are dividing our communities.”

Nicol continued, “In one instance a small town created a tattle tale line, so that locals could take videos of business owners not enforcing mandates and turn it into the officials. The tattle tale line went as far as to make a list of Republican business owners in town This tattle tale line resulted in businesses being threatened to be fined and fear of closure. In the meantime, business owners are forced to police their customers out of fear that they will be shut down. The business owner and their employees safety is compromised while policing their customers, as you are aware not every customer is willing or able to comply with some of the mandates, putting the business and customer at odds. These mandates force the business to decide whether they should comply with the mandate and turn a non-compliant customer away, or keep their doors open.”

Don Frye owns the Hot Rod Filling Station

in Bozeman. He is a second generation owner of two 50-year restaurant businesses. “I hope to pass these businesses on to my children and keep this legacy alive if the health department and the county board of health do not completely crush the independent bar and restaurant industry.  It is for the future generations that we are here for today, to make sure they do not have to navigate the same path for the next virus or pandemic.

“I have experienced the inconsistent and arbitrary power of the Gallatin County Board of Health at a sickening level this past year. I am forced to turn away 50 percent of my regular customer base and to run business at break even or less. “

Frye said, “In short our local board of health has lightened their work by forcing small businesses to enforce their arbitrary and inconsistent rules.”

Jackie Wahl

is the mother-in-law of a fallen deputy, Jake Almond Jr. She talked about having to cancel a fundraiser softball tournament for his family, “even though we made every concession to comply with safety measures. … They decided to cancel it, but keep in mind that regular softball season went on all year long, with no problem at all, with a lot more teams.”  

Andrew Cetraro

spoke on behalf of the Gallatin County Licensed Beverage Association, which has over 200 members. “Many times these licenses are a huge investment. …they can pay upwards of a million dollars,” said Cetraro, “This bill gives us the protection needed to pay for our investments and daily costs and mortgages.”

Charlotte Snyder

also said that she doesn’t believe the health board should be able to compel a private business to deny a customer entrance to their business or access to the goods and services, which they provide . “In many cases by denying a customer those goods and services they are denying the public access to basic human necessities. The local boards have erroneously turned  business owners into enforcement arms of the government. When you deny a business the ability to sell a good or service to a customer you are robbing that business of the ability to provide financial stability to their employees, themselves and their families.

“A local small business told me that they were reported for the lack of enforcement of the mask mandate. The health department actually told this business owner they need to have someone at the door opening it and telling the people to wear a mask. They are a small business! They certainly cannot afford to hire a person to open a door. These people, enforcing these mandates, do not have to worry about losing their jobs, yet they are the ones telling small businesses to hire people to open doors.  This is beyond ludicrous .. .the health department clearly has no concept on how private businesses operate and survive.”

Dax Cetraro , owner of the Rialto Bar in Helena,

said “COVID 19 has had devastating impact on our small business. We have had to lay off a good portion of our work force … and up until the 10 pm closing we were barely breaking even and we were able to pay the bills. If it wasn’t for the PPP we would have been out of business a long time ago.” But, he continued, “when they kicked us down to 10 pm, 60 percent of our revenue disappeared. So we have been unable to hire more people.

“If I were in the Rocking R’s situation, I would be crushed. Out of business for good. The Rialto has been around in Helena since the 1930s. That would be a tragic thing to be put out of business because of litigation against something like that … All we want to do as small business people is work. I don’t want the handouts. I don’t want the PPP money. I want to make a living, allow my staff to make a living, earn tips and take care of our guests .. the most horrifying thing in this whole epidemic is this power the boards of health have right now. I am more worried about that than COVID 19.

Franz Glaus, Four Corners

 near Bozeman, said, “We are speaking about the abuse of power. .. the list is long of those who were seriously compromised last year. … We have seen where some Orwellian shared values are ginned up and introduced and rise above the Constitution… in Hunger Games fashion we are muzzled before the community. We are quarantined for Grandma. Our business is decreed non-essential for the greater good. The aged die alone to flatten the curve. This bill 257 and others like it .. are the tools and materials we wish to use to fix some leaks in the roof of state, that shelters us from the occasional deluge of petty tyrants.”

Ken Miller, Laurel, 

testified that as a business owner and property owner with tenants he and his wife have been greatly affected. “We have learned a lot,” he said, “but in most cases most of these things have caused more harm than good… the bottom line is the free enterprise is always the best approach to handle the concerns.”

Raven Dighans

 had only opened her business in December 2019. “We were hopeful…we  continued to adjust our practices so our customers would feel safe .. but then mandates started to come down …with those mandates came a distinct fear that if we as private business owners did not enforce the rules being dictated by the health department there would be retributive action taken against us. I distinctly remember lying awake in my bed at night fretting how we could possibly recover financially if our license was removed or if we received a huge fine or were sued because somebody walked through our door without a mask. The mandates … pitted neighbor against neighbor and incited a witch hunt for businesses  Not only has my business been reported to the health department three times because the wording on our required signage did not dictate the local mandate, letter for letter, I have also been visited by our County COVID Inspector. Yes, that is a thing, if you are not familiar.  Upon entrance into my shop, without identifying herself, the COVID Inspector demanded to know if everyone in the room was from the same family. With that the very few customers that I had had for the day, left.

“This particular representative of the county continued on to inspect me to make sure I was following … not the health regulations that determine the continuation of my license but instead the COVID guidelines dictated by the county health department .

“In speaking with other private business owners who received the same kind of inspection from the county inspector, it became increasingly clear that we all felt that these visits were designed to undermine us as private business owners and to drive home the idea of the seriousness of the retributive action that could take place if we do not concede to and enforce the county mandates.”

Carolyn Truscott

said,  “In my opinion taking steps to limit contact between people is too broad to be comfortable with …limiting contact between people is impossible to implement without a police state and oppression of our right to assemble  How far would local health officers go to limit contact requiring masks , six foot distancing, shorter business hours and reduce business capacity? We see how all of those steps to limit contact backfired and killed businesses and those steps restricted our ability to patronize these businesses.” She called it an “over reaction to a virus”… “as if it were a nuclear meltdown. We can’t cry wolf every time the common cold or flu comes to town.”

Conrad Everetts

represented a campground called Mountain Bike City, west of Helena, said that if HB257 didn’t pass “We are not opening this year.” He said the county’s deference to health officers is based  on three “false premises”: 1.) government health experts are a not political. 2.) that government health experts are competent. 3.) that government health experts are benevolent.  “We spent the last year out-sourcing our politics and allowing our livelihoods to be destroyed by bureaucrats who heretofore were trusted mainly with insuring refrigerators  and tap water were a certain temperature …”

Cindi Hamilton

said, “I am here as a previous business owner. Our business was completely destroyed by the egos of local government agencies. We probably spent a $100,000 trying to save the business but we were not able to. .. I used to support local government. At this point local government has become a power drunk tyranny. What is going on is destroying our lives. Government is supposed to make our lives better.”

Heather Richards of Gallatin County said that life has been “like prison… it is stressful.. we are not thinking about what is happing to the future of our children. We are being muzzled. Our identity is being taken away.” She relayed that “there have been countless times in stores that I have been harassed by total strangers ..  we are being forced by unelected bureaucrats to do things that should not be happening…  I have so much anxiety going into a store today that I have had to take my money away from Montana to shop on- line because I’m fearful of going out in my own town …where I have been for 25 years – How did we get here?”

Gabe Lynn Johnson, Great Falls,

spoke that ”we have lost our freedom. She quoted a holocaust survivor who said that “memories are not the key to the past but to the future.”

Barbara Friend told about what happened when she asked some teenagers at a public pool why they were taking her temperature and that of her children. She was in the pool with her children when a policeman arrived and pulled her out of the pool to question her after the pool workers reported her. She said, “All this ‘ratting out’ has made little teenagers into brown shirts.”

Her statement elicited a response from a legislator on the committee who was indignant, explaining that “brown shirts” were Nazi storm troopers” and “it is wholly unacceptable to throw around insults like that.”

Bryan Miller, Flathead County,

 told a similar story about taking his three children to swim lessons. He said he had an exemption from wearing a mask. The police came, took him into custody and took him to jail. His wife had to come to retrieve the children and bail him out of jail.

Cheryl Tuscan commented that the issue of mandates “have been very divisive and have torn the fabric of our society.” She was astonished about “snitch lines” made available for people to report non-compliance, and of the “undercover health department employees” visiting bars and restaurants to  monitor obedience. “Businesses are afraid… and customers are afraid. We should be able to make informed decisions and NEVER, EVER TOLERATE censorship of the medical community.”

Donna Elford, Helena,

 brought a petition with 69 signatures. She reported that “because of the over reach of the health department the oldest farm market in the state has been destroyed. . . little mom and pops,  little farmers who brought produce were forced to do the mask mandate when there wasn’t even a mandate and so they killed the market.”

Eileen Guthrie said, “No health board or government  should require a business to discriminate. Last Saturday I went to a local store, when I walked in the clerk asked me about a mask …I said no. Privacy laws say they are not to ask you about all your health background… I proceeded through the store. A large man, very tall, came up to me and said I needed to wear a mask . I said no. I proceeded through the store. He came up to me again to make sure I understood that without a mask they would not sell me anything. I said that was fine I was checking prices… As I went through the store he came to me a third time to make sure I knew he would not sell me anything if I did not wear a mask. The store was not crowded. There were no lines at the checkout. There was plenty of room for distancing. It was clear discrimination  and I am guessing it is fear of the health boards that these private employees felt necessary to discriminate against me.

Opponents to the legislation who testified were considerably fewer and tended to represent entities of government or their professional organizations. They voiced concern that HB257 went too far in that it seems to allow businesses to ignore the specific regulations governing how they operate. They seemed not to understand that the issue was about business people being required to police the compliance of others. No opponent addressed that issue nor did they attempt to explain  reports of aggressive and abusive actions of those from government agencies. They had no explanations nor apologies.

Jim Murphy with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services testified that he believed the legislation will lead to confusion. He also said, “The bill limits the ability to take action against some of the businesses that they may regulate. Some of the regulation is very broad . .. and very little action could be taken to address a very valid health concern. .. it may lead to many unintended  consequences.”

Tim Burton, Executive Director for the Montana League of Cities and Towns, and Kelly Lynch, also with the organization, said that they represent 127 municipalities in Montana and urged for postponing action. Burton said, “I don’t think now is the time to re-invent our public health system in the middle of a pandemic.” He said that he understands the economic impact, but the status quo should remain until after it ends, when they can have “an after disaster assessment. Where we can sit down and thoroughly review what worked and what didn’t work and what is a better practice.”

Emily Coyle with the Montana Association of Health Care Purchasers, said “We are concerned with the potential negative unintended consequences of HB257. She said they are opposed to any changes in the state that could hamper our health and recovery …now is not the time to make such drastic changes. It would over burden local boards and governing bodies.

Lance Richards was an opponent who called in to say that individuals have a responsibility to others. He said, “I believe this isn’t the last of have a responsibility  and obligation to oppose the passage of this bill for future generations.”

Michael Biggins, Seeley Lake,

 said it was good to be able to “pursue action against these businesses” and see them fall into compliance and “make life safer for everyone.”

Hinkle said that he would make an amendment that would make clear that the intent of the legislation is

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.