- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Nov. 25, on increasing fees for dairy producers:

The state Department of Livestock is set to dramatically increase fees charged to small dairy producers - to the extent that some could be driven out of business. In the department’s justification for the increases it admits they will disproportionately hit small producers. The DOL’s Small Business Impact Statement states: “Small businesses in the early growth stage will be especially impacted.” Meanwhile some of the state’s largest dairies could actually see their fees decreased.

This is counterintuitive, pure and simple. How can the Livestock Board, which has tentatively approved the new fees, justify a fee schedule that is so blatantly anti-small business? Based on a recent fiscal audit, it looks suspiciously like the department is trying to get its own house in order by placing the burden squarely on the backs of small producers.

The audit found that the department is plagued by chronic budget shortfalls and had been using illegal accounting practices to balance its books in recent years. And the Livestock Board has no representative from the dairy industry right now, even though it is required to do so by law.

Board members serve at the pleasure of Gov. Steve Bullock, and he should get involved in this issue in the interest of protecting small businesses and the jobs they generate.

The new fee schedule is aimed at producing more revenue to pay for regular inspections of dairy facilities. To be sure, the inspections are important to ensure the safety of dairy products. But putting people out of business to pay for the inspections is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Barring a change, the new fees will take effect Jan. 1. But they remain subject to public comment until Dec. 10. This is an issue that dairies large and small should get on board with to pressure the board to alter the proposed fee schedule and distribute more of the increased cost to the larger producers. And Bullock should look into providing some public health general fund money to help pay for the inspections.

There are some 70 budding small dairy producers in the state, and they deserve a chance to succeed.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1lWP6dJ


Billings Gazette, Nov. 29, on Alzheimer’s disease in Montana:

In the next 15 years, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to rise by 50 percent. Fifteen years from now, Montana is expected to have the fourth or fifth oldest population among the states.

Those two related trends spurred the 2015 Montana Legislature to order a study of state laws that are supposed to safeguard disabled adults. The Interim Committee on Children, Families, Health and Human Services continued its study of guardianship laws and Alzheimer’s disease in a Billings meeting on Nov. 20.

Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings, who sponsored the study bill, and Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings, serve on the interim panel. They helped bring the meeting to Billings where lawmakers from across the state heard from central Montana health care providers and advocates for elders.

About 19,000 Montanans have Alzheimer’s disease now. Within 10 years, that number will increase to 27,000 Montanans. Alzheimer’s is already the sixth leading cause of death in Montana.

A key to reducing the burden of Alzheimer’s is delaying the onset of impairment, said Dr. Patricia Coon, a geriatric medicine specialist at Billings Clinic. It is in the final disease stages, when patients may require round-the-clock care, that their quality of life suffers the most and the cost of their care is the highest.

Although Alzheimer’s can’t yet be cured, medications and other treatment can help individuals and families with some symptoms, Coon said.

She cited estimates that Alzheimer’s cost Americans $226 billion in this year. That includes $113 billion in Medicare spending, $41 billion in Medicaid, $44 billion out of patients’ pockets and $29 billion from other sources.

The interim committee should incorporate Coon’s recommendations in proposals to the 2017 Legislature:

-Devise a statewide strategy that increases public awareness and early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.

-Enable individuals with dementia to live at home or the least restrictive level of care.

-Provide caregivers and family members with the support they need to provide care at home.

-Create an Alzheimer’s/Dementia State Plan for Montana.

Coon is part of a Montana group that is working on such a plan. Members include health care professionals, nonprofit elder advocacy organizations, state senior service agency personnel and individuals who have cared for family members with Alzheimer’s.

Statewide, 48,000 family caregivers are providing 55 million hours of unpaid elder care annually. If they had been paid, the costs would have exceeded $668 million.

Who are these caregivers?

AARP Montana recently conducted a statistically valid survey with 800 Montanans age 45 or older. The survey indicates that 59 percent of caregivers are women age 65 or older. The average age of the person they care for is 80. Most of the caregivers are assisting with such tasks as managing medications, giving injections and changing IVs.

The AARP Montana survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed that caregivers need more resources, including information on how to care for their loved one, help with transportation and the opportunity to take a break.

Montanans are pleading for help to fight the state’s most prevalent, deadly, incurable disease. Lawmakers must respond with updated policies to ease the burden of Alzheimer’s on families and taxpayers.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1OFkGGd


The Missoulian, Nov. 29, on decreased enrollment at University of Montana:

The University of Montana’s enrollment nosedive can be attributed to many different factors, at least some of which are beyond the control of that esteemed institution’s decision-makers.

A strategic enrollment plan, however, is something university leaders should have had a handle on years ago. Without one, any enrollment gains or losses can be chalked up to circumstance, rather than careful management.

A strategic enrollment plan is one of those things a university should have in place even when enrollment is strong. These plans help colleges and universities target their recruitment efforts in a way that makes the best use of funding to reach the greatest number of prospective students.

Comprehensive enrollment strategies are even more critical when enrollment is in decline, as it has been at the University of Montana for several years now. Enrollment has fallen from a peak of more than 15,600 students in 2011 to about 13,000 students today. The drop has left UM struggling to absorb a shortfall of millions of dollars.

Earlier this month, UM President Royce Engstrom made the difficult announcement that 201 jobs will be eliminated from the university’s budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. He pointed out that even after the cuts, the university will still boast a higher number of employees in 2017 than in 2011, when student enrollment was lower than current levels. Still, it’s safe to say that the news was met with dismay - from staff and faculty, students and alumni, and the surrounding Missoula community. All have an interest in the university’s continued success, and therefore in steady, if not growing, student enrollment.

Two years ago, a group of university faculty and staff - members of the Enrollment Management Working Group - offered a report urging the creation of a comprehensive enrollment plan that would outline goals for all types of students and link enrollment management to “other campus strategic objectives.”

We sorely wish the Enrollment Management Working Group’s recommendation had been treated with more urgency. It should have been identified as a priority and acted on right away.

Instead, the University of Montana has attempted to improve new student recruitment without the benefit of a comprehensive strategy.

In 2013, Engstrom outlined several steps UM would be taking to boost enrollment. Some of these steps included:

-Reviewing financial aid.

-Encouraging scholarship investments through the UM Foundation.

-Contracting with an outside firm to identify likely students and target outreach. In 2013, the university signed a new three-year, $2.1 million contract with an Iowa-based firm that yielded a significant, measurable increase in inquiries - but not in enrollments.

Now, the university is in the process of hiring a new vice president of student affairs who will also be in charge of enrollment management. The person picked for the position will lead the university’s efforts to develop a strategic enrollment plan.

The University of Montana’s enrollment decline can be traced to negative publicity, a dragging national economy, diminished interest in liberal arts programs like the one on which UM is founded, shrinking populations of high-school graduates and more. Yet other colleges and universities in the U.S. have found ways to overcome these same challenges. Presumably, they have a strategy in place for doing so.

UM, lacking a strategy, is drowning in the consequences. It has been reactive rather than proactive through the early years of this enrollment decline, and now must scramble to catch up. Indeed, it must compete against other liberal arts universities that have already found successful strategies. And it must do so with fewer resources.

An enrollment plan is overdue and must be made a priority not only for the new vice president of student affairs, but for every one of the university’s top administrators.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Iotb9e


Great Falls Tribune, Dec. 1, on ways to grow the wind energy industry:

Montana has a strong energy future ahead of it, with stiff winds, lots of sunshine, coal-fired and natural gas-fired electricity and more. Conserving electricity remains an excellent option.

We’d like to see Montana continue as a strong energy producer and exporter of power. Montana is beginning to form a group to look at ways for the state to meet a 2030 deadline to cut carbon emissions by 47 percent under a proposed federal Clean Power Plan.

One good idea is to continue to assist wind power. Montana wind farms already generate 665 megawatts of wind power, but could do plenty more, with assists from agencies and Congress. That’s according to wind energy proponents who chatted Tuesday with the editorial board.

“Renewables clearly have a role to play,” said Jeff L. Fox of Bozeman, Montana policy manager for Renewable Northwest. He said wind power from Montana could help provide new electricity for Northwest utilities if one or two Colstrip units eventually close. And Colorado’s Tom Darin, senior director of Western state policy for the American Wind Energy Association, noted Montana is considered among the top 10 states with an ability to provide wind power to states affected by the Clean Power Plan.

Ways to help what may become a blooming wind-energy industry in Montana would include:

-Congress renewing production tax credits for wind energy, a subsidy that has helped spur the industry so far. Rather than continuing to approve short-term extensions of the credit, it would be more prudent for Congress to pass a long term renewal of the subsidy, with a gradual phase out. That would allow wind-power businesses to more easily plan their investments in a commodity that’s readily available east of the Rocky Mountains.

-Eliminating a fiscal bottleneck on a 500-kilovolt transmission line that begins at Colstrip and runs west. At Townsend, the charge to transmit power along the line jumps so high that no one wants to pay the price, according to Fox. The result: 184 megawatts of capacity on the line have been “unused for more than 20 years.” Wind energy backers have tried to get the federal Bonneville Power Administration, which sells cheap hydropower to customers, to reduce the rate, to no avail. We think it makes sense to reduce that rate, which could be used by wind or solar farms, or other users who need transmission.

-Upgrade the 500-kilovolt line that runs through Townsend. The same path would be followed, and 500 to 600 megawatts of power could be added; a new substation would be needed west of Missoula. One estimate for the BPA’s share of the line upgrade was $141 million; Fox said BPA did “a lot of foot-dragging” after a wind firm, Gaelectric, planned a wind farm at Judith Gap and asked for an upgrade in 2010. BPA still hadn’t finished an impact statement in 2014, when Gaelectric gave up the project.

We’d like to encourage BPA to do more to improve transmission of electricity in Montana. The agency should cut its excessive pricing to free up 184 MW, and we also like the sound of the upgrade. Assistance from Montana’s congressional delegation to improving power transmission in the state would be helpful.

Montanans need energy, and so do more populous Western states. Let’s be thoughtful about how we move forward.

Editorial: https://gftrib.com/1OFl6MP

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