Billings Gazette, March 12, on keeping Montana's eastern ports of entry open:
There will be no 24-hour port of entry from Canada into eastern Montana starting a month from now, if the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol carries out changes announced Thursday.
The CBP website says it will reduce its hours of operation at four ports of entry on the Canada border beginning on April 14:
- The Port of Raymond north of Plentywood, which is now Montana's only 24-port into Saskatchewan, would be closed midnight to 6 a.m.
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- The ports of Scobey, Opheim and Morgan (north of Malta) will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. year round, eliminating their longer summertime hours that had extended to 9 p.m.
The operating hours at each of these ports currently are the same as their Canadian counterparts, which means two-way travel is convenient and readily available. With the changes effective on April 14, there will be times when there's only one-way traffic. People will be able to enter Canada, but not the United States.
The problem is most concerning at Raymond. The CBP points out that travelers will still be able to enter the United States by driving east 108 miles to Portal, North Dakota, the nearest remaining 24-hour port of entry. That's the problem: The CBP is directing traffic and commerce away from Montana.
Local residents who have business on both sides of the border will be greatly inconvenienced. Shippers and travelers may well reroute their trips to take advantage of the always-open North Dakota port.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte protested the changes in a letter sent last week to Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of the CBP, saying "forcing shippers to significantly alter their routes and schedules to get their goods to market presents a substantial burden." Daines and Gianforte noted that Montana exported $685 million worth of goods to Canada in 2019, which was 42 percent of all our state's exports.
"A significant reduction in port hours during the high season of June through September would also have a negative impact on commerce in my state," Sen. Jon Tester told the CBP commissioner in a letter on March 5. "This abrupt decision and lack of feedback from farmers and ranchers, shippers, local communities and our neighbors in Canada represent a deep misunderstanding of the needs of agricultural producers in rural states like Montana."
This isn't the first time the federal government has moved to curtail Montana port of entry services. In November 2015, CBP said it would cut hours at the Port of Raymond to 8 a.m. to midnight daily. The entire Montana congressional delegation at the time (Daines, Tester and Ryan Zinke) opposed the cut, as did a regional trade group and the Sheridan County Commission.
Montanans must rally again to keep our border ports staffed. If hours are cut at Raymond, the nearest 24-hour port will be in North Dakota; the nearest 24-hour port in Montana will be 300 miles west at Sweetgrass, which is north of Shelby.
Most attention on U.S. borders is riveted on the southern border, but the border with Canada requires attention, too. The northern border must be secure and function to promote the flow of goods and people, including agriculture and tourism.
Montana shares a 550-mile (885-kilometer) border with our friendly northern neighbors. Farmers work on both sides of the border. The ports are vital for moving agricultural commodities and equipment. It's ridiculous for the United States to reduce its work hours, forcing local and international business to conform to schedules and long detours that don't make sense for them. The changes would be a big headache for people who depend on these ports, and relatively small "savings" to the federal government.
Keep the Montana ports open the hours they are now.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, March 12, on Montana's community colleges deserving a boost:
Lawmakers and Montana U-system leaders can often find themselves at odds over things like funding, employee salaries and construction plans. But there seems to be some recent agreement on one issue: boosting the role of two-year community colleges and vocational technical training in the system.
This effort has the potential to put thousands of Montanans on useful and secure career paths. It also reflects a national trend to invest more in community colleges and vocational training over traditional four-college education. That comes from an awareness that two-year education programs prepare students for immediate job placement at a much lower cost — to the state and the students.
Dubbed the "Shared Policy Goal," the agreement calls for increasing marketing efforts to make students and parents aware of the career training already offered by the U-system. It would include online listings of programs offered statewide along with worker skills in high demand and salaries that can be expected with those skills. The agreement also calls on the U-system to work with high school teachers to boost awareness of training programs among students, identify existing workforce needs and develop programs to meet them, and offer more online classes so students can fulfill at least some of their educational requirements from home.
Nationwide, enrollment in four-year institutions is declining while enrollment in community colleges is rising. Montana community colleges, including Gallatin College, are experiencing those enrollment increases. As of now, four out of 10 Montana high school graduates do not go on to post-secondary education. That can be a recipe for chronic unemployment and low wages. This effort should help get more of those people into valuable career training. And the two-year institutions can also be a more affordable stepping stone for some to go on to a four-year programs if they choose to do so.
Most of those involved are expressing support for the "Shared Policy Goal," but it still needs signatures of the commissioner of higher education and lawmakers on the Legislature's Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
All involved are urged to enter into this agreement and give the state's community colleges and vocational training programs the boost they deserve.
Missoulian, March 10, on Montana legislators needing to unite to protect troubled youth:
Unfortunately, just because a legislative proposal would correct a thoroughly documented problem, has strong support and virtually no opposition doesn't guarantee it will survive the Montana Legislature.
But whenever a handful of legislators nearly succeed in killing a badly needed bill, Montanans must demand a good explanation.
Senate Bill 267, sponsored by Sen. Diane Sands, a Missoula Democrat, at the request of Rep. Zac Perry, D-Hungry Horse, is the legislation that would finally create some accountability and bring real oversight to alternative programs that promise to treat troubled youth. As a recent Missoulian investigative series showed in abundant detail, these programs are licensed in the state of Montana under a system that cursory inspection system, and complaints never result in significant corrective action. The state-appointed board is stacked with people who run the same programs they are supposed to oversee, and operates with almost no transparency.
Sands' legislation would dismantle the board and shift the responsibility for inspecting, licensing and reprimanding alternative treatment programs to the state agency with the most experience and expertise in overseeing similar youth programs: the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
DPHHS has testified in support of the bill. Even members of the board that would be disbanded have spoken in favor of the bill. Indeed, no one has publicly testified against it.
Yet five legislators on the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee nearly succeeded in tabling the bill last month, which would have effectively killed it for the session. And even after two legislators changed their votes to allow the bill out of committee, three continued to oppose it: Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux; Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings; and Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell voted against it by proxy.
The specious reasoning given for this opposition was that they worried about overtaxing the already heavily burdened DPHHS, and that they didn't want to see DPHHS create new requirements that would unduly burden the programs. Apparently they would prefer to maintain the status quo that leaves vulnerable youth at risk.
Again, DPHHS administrators have testified that their agency is the most appropriate fit for these oversight duties, and that the agency is prepared to assume them. They further testified that no rule changes or new requirements would be made in the immediate future, allowing programs to continue operating under the same rules they have for years.
The critical difference is that DPHHS would actually hold these programs to these rules, adhering to well-established inspection and complaint processes. And because the heads of the programs would no longer be the ones responsible for overseeing this process, the system would be free at last from any conflict of interest. SB 267 now goes to the Senate floor for consideration.
Meanwhile, legislators on the House and Senate judiciary committees will hold hearings Friday, March 15, on two related bills.
House Bill 282, introduced by St. Regis Republican Rep. Denley Loge, passed the House with flying colors on its third reading and is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Hinebauch is a member of this committee. Let's hope his ears and those of his fellow senators are open this time.
Only two legislators voted against the bill in the House: Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, and Rep. Greg DeVries, R-Jefferson City. It's difficult to imagine what these two lawmakers found objectionable in the bill, which would make it a crime for workers in treatment programs to have sex with those receiving treatment. Under current law, youths older than the age of consent, which is 16, are legally considered fair game for sexual predators in a position of authority who seek to take advantage of the youth in their care.
The second bill, House Bill 222, would eliminate the exemption that allows treatment programs affiliated with a religious organization to operate with no oversight whatsoever. Introduced by Rep. Zac Perry, D-Hungry Horse, at the request of Missoula Democrat Rep. Shane Morigeau, HB 222 is sure to face opposition, as it has in the past, from the owners of these programs when it is heard Friday in the House Judiciary Committee.
During the 2017 legislative session, and in previous sessions, former Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, a Missoula Democrat, pushed for a similar proposal. Her bill garnered support from the Department of Labor and Industry, which currently is tasked with handling licensing for non-religious programs, despite the fact that it oversees no other businesses that deal with troubled youth. But it also attracted criticism from Pinehaven Christian Children's Ranch and from the Montana Family Foundation.
Pinehaven, which is located near St. Ignatius, counts as a former director Robert Larsson, who requested the original religious exemption. It uses a program that is not accredited, and its teachers are not required to be certified. It has repeatedly been involved with law enforcement, with reports tallying 11 runaways, seven unsubstantiated reports of abuse and one suicidal teen over the past 10 years. In 2005, a former Pinehaven staff member was convicted of raping two girls in the program. A co-worker testified at his sentencing that he had not received proper training when he was hired.
Pinehaven, and other programs, continue to operate without state oversight thanks to this religious exemption.
The Montana Family Foundation need not worry that state oversight will interfere with any religious foundations of these programs. The rules are aimed at providing for the health, safety and welfare of program participants, who are mostly minors and who are often in programs far away from their parents, with minimal contact. And clearly, some basic level of oversight is needed to ensure that youth are safe while they receive treatment.
This must be the year that oversight is finally provided. Montana's legislators ought to be able to agree on this at least.