- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Independent Record, May 15, on a proposal for hunting grizzly bears:

Hunting is not only a fundamental part of Montana’s culture, but also a way to help prevent some of the problems associated with the overpopulation of certain species in certain areas. And nostalgia for the iconic grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park is not a good enough reason to prevent people from hunting the animals if and when it makes sense from a wildlife management standpoint to do so.

A proposal to implement state-managed hunting seasons for the bears took a major step forward at a Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Thursday. Following the Obama administration’s March proposal to lift protections for the more than 700 grizzlies in the area, the committee endorsed for public comment a hunting regulation framework designed to distribute harvest and limit female mortality.

Wildlife officials emphasized that approving a hunting framework is a federal requirement and not an indication that the state is going to allow people to start hunting the bears any time soon. But the meeting did provide an opportunity for those on both sides of the issue to make their case should that day come.

Some of those wary of grizzly hunting in Montana made some great points. Several commenters noted that the bear numbers are not growing quickly and that the animals should be able to move freely between other populations, and we believe these concerns deserve close scrutiny by the wildlife officials considering the proposed hunting framework.

But others seemed to be opposed to grizzly hunting in Montana under all circumstances, citing the many resources put toward the bears’ recovery, as well as potential negative effects on tourism and publicity.

It’s true that wildlife officials have spent a lot of time and effort restoring this population of bears, which have been considered a threatened species since 1975. However, a hunting season for the animals would not invalidate those efforts, but serve as an indicator that they were successful.

Furthermore, with fewer than 10 licenses expected to be issued per year, whatever impact a hunting season may have on tourists hoping to get a glimpse of the iconic Yellowstone grizzlies would be minimal. And any negative publicity that may come with grizzly hunting would be negated by the excitement of those eager for the opportunity to go up against one of the majestic animals in the wild.

We aren’t saying wildlife officials should allow the hunting to start tomorrow. And if it turns out a hunting season would be counterproductive to their efforts to achieve target population numbers, they shouldn’t allow it at all.

But if the data show that hunting the bears would help prevent overpopulation that could harm habitat in the Yellowstone area and lead to conflicts with people and livestock, we certainly see no reason not to.

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


The Billings Gazette, May 16, on tracking campaign finance reports:

Earlier this month, Montana candidates and the small staff of the Commissioner of Political Practices made history: For the first time, all statewide and state district political candidates were required to file their campaign finance reports electronically.

The new system worked. Amazingly, 312 candidates for Legislature and Public Service Commission successfully filed their reports on or before May 9. Only 27 missed the deadline. Additionally, county office candidates who expected to spend or receive more than $500 filed under the new electronic reporting rule.

The rule stems from the Disclose Act of 2015, which passed with support from Democrats and some Republicans. It was sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, and backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. The law allows the commissioner of political practices to require electronic campaign finance reporting, which Commissioner Jonathan Motl did last fall through a process that involved public hearings.

Electronic filing is nationally recognized by open government advocates as fundamental to public information. Previously in Montana, only statewide candidates had to file electronically. Legislative candidates and others could file hard copy reports, or email documents to the COPP. Both of those methods delayed public access to information that had to be scanned in manually. It took many hours of staff time just to get all the paper reports online several days later. Once online, those scanned reports weren’t searchable.

With the online filing system that debuted this month, reports are publicly accessible immediately upon filing. The reports are searchable by candidate, contributor and expenditure.

What can voters learn on the website of the Montana Campaign Electronic Reporting System?

-Who has donated how much to a candidate.

-What and how much the candidate has spent money on.

-Loans made to the campaign.

-How much the candidate has spent overall and how much is left in the campaign bank account.

For example: The latest filings by gubernatorial candidates show that Gov. Steve Bullock has $748,047 in the bank for primary campaign spending and $382,729 for the General Election. His main challenger, Greg Gianforte reported having $115,232 in his primary account and $246,826 on hand for the General Election.

Once the three COPP staff members who handle campaign reports got the electronic platform up and running, they focused on making the data more searchable, according Motl. He expects the COPP site will be searchable later this week for political action committees that must report spending.

“Over the next reporting periods, we will provide guides for public and press to access information,” Motl said.

The comprehensive online filing has been accomplished with no additional funding from the 2015 Legislature.

Motl praised his staff’s dedication to making the filing system work for everyone. Candidates were encouraged to phone in with questions and concerns. Staff members provided answers. Now the public, even those who are voting early, can check into the money behind the candidates.

Another round of campaign finance reports will be due before the June 7 Primary Election. Statewide candidates are required to report again on May 23, while legislative and other state district candidates, and county office candidates must report again by May 26 on contributions and expenditures through May 21. There’s also a post-primary report due in late June. General Election reports are due at the beginning and end of October and in late November.

Find answers to your campaign money questions at the COPP website: www.politicalpractices.mt.gov. Another great resource is followthemoney.org, a service of the private, nonprofit National Institute for Money in State Politics, which is based in Helena.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1TiV7LA


The Great Falls Tribune, May 17, on infrastructure legislation:

Infrastructure is a boring word that refers to water and sewer systems, roads, bridges and more.

But it’s a subject stirring emotions across the Treasure State as politicians point fingers at each other over why an infrastructure bill in the 2015 Legislature failed by a single vote.

It’s become an issue in some Republican primary races. In the Great Falls area, Rep. Wendy McKamey noted she voted for the large infrastructure bill, while Rep. Randy Pinocci voted against it. The two Republicans are facing each other for the House District 19 seat in rural Cascade County now held by Pinocci.

House Majority Whip Greg Hertz suggested on this page Friday that Senate Bill 416 would have passed had Gov. Steve Bullock shown more flexibility and dropped either of two large projects some Republicans didn’t like - an expansion of the state Historical Society museum or renovation of historic Romney Hall at Montana State University.

Bullock’s representatives and Democratic legislators worked with Republican leadership in the Senate to modify the big bill, and the final version of the bill was endorsed by House Speaker Austin Knudsen.

The trouble came in the House as disgruntled conservative Republicans, already in a foul mood after losing key votes on major legislation, had had enough. “We have lost virtually everything we came here to accomplish,” Rep. Art Wittich told a Republican caucus as he urged members to vote against the infrastructure bill, which he had characterized as “pork.”

We believe some conservatives were petty when they voted against the infrastructure bill, especially since 40 percent of the bill would have gone to eastern Montana projects such as water and sewer systems.

At the same time, Bullock might have been too greedy including the $20 million history museum addition in Helena and a reduced $18.5 million to renovate Romney Hall in the final package, even if those projects required local matches and extra state economic growth to get funded.

There is plenty of blame to pass around. Republicans voting against the measure were misguided when they refused on principle to borrow any money for the work, amid low interest rates. Businesses borrow money for capital projects all the time. State Sen. Llew Jones, a moderate Republican from Conrad, said the refusal to borrow money was a key issue for conservatives, and he doesn’t fault Bullock for failing to be flexible at session’s end, which Hertz had suggested. A majority of Republicans voted for the bill, Jones added.

However, Jones believes the governor made a strategic mistake during the session on infrastructure. Key legislators including Jones wanted to move ahead with the infrastructure bill in March, but Bullock wanted to wait toward the end of the session, when SB 416 barely failed. Jones think the big bill would have passed the House if taken up earlier. At session’s end, anger was heightened among conservatives.

Clearly, in 2017, whoever is in the governor’s office will need to do a better job justifying infrastructure projects to ensure passage.

The administration should:

-Do extensive research so the most-needed projects receive top priority. Involve legislators in the process.

-Make sure core projects such as water and sewer system improvements get approved. Montanans need to know their toilets will flush, and they’ll get decent water to drink after turning on a faucet.

-Be cautious about wrapping in large building projects, such as the museum and Romney Hall.

-Get the job done during the session, even if negotiations and long hours are required in the Capitol.

Montanans deserve better than what they received during the last two sessions.

Editorial: https://gftrib.com/25aQgqH

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