Big Sky Connection

 

Eric Tegethoff

April 12, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, marking the additional months into 2017 it takes women to catch up with men's salaries from 2016. Nationally, women are paid 80 cents for every dollar men are paid for the same job.

The gap is greater for women in Montana, who receive only 73 cents for every dollar men receive, according to a study from the American Association of University Women. That differential stacks up to a loss of more than $12,000 annually.

Jen Euell, director of the Women's Foundation of Montana, says the issue persists even though women have closed the gender gap in other areas.

"Women now are educated at just as high a level, oftentimes an even higher level, than men in the United States, but the pay gap still remains about the same, and so that's the issue that we're trying to address," she explained.

Montana has the fifth highest wage gap in the country. If the gap continues to close at its current rate, the state won't see pay equity until 2084.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has taken a unique approach to address this issue, establishing the Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force.

Euell is a member of that task force. She says with the current labor shortage in Montana, which will most likely be exacerbated as the working population grows older and retires, the pay gap needs to close faster to attract more female workers into the labor force.

"In that context, this conversation of how we really attract talent and how we really keep talent in the workforce is going to become even more important and the gender pay gap is certainly a part of that discussion," she added.

The Women's Foundation of Montana is hosting events at breweries in cities around the state today, including in Bozeman, Whitefish and Missoula.



 

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The Yellowstone Art Museum will host an informative session on the essentials of protecting copyright and intellectual property rights.  The session is designed for artists, writers, and other creative professionals, but all are welcome.  “Know Your Rights:  Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights for Artists” will be presented by attorneys Bob Griffin, Shalise Zobel, and Isaac Potter from Crowley Fleck PLLP and Billings attorney Jennifer L. Webber of WEBBERpllc.  Digital technologies have made it easier than ever before for forgers and plagiarists to steal creative work.  It is also important for artists who use other artists’ work in their own to know the limitations and definitions.  Learn what you need to know at this important session.

 The presentation and Q&A will take place in the YAM’s Murdock Gallery on Thursday, April 20, 2017, beginning at 6:30 p.m.  It is sponsored by the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of Montana.  The program is free of charge and will include free admission to the YAM’s galleries beginning at 6:00 p.m.


 

March 23, 2017

HELENA, MT  --- The Delta Kappa Gamma, Alpha Chapter honor society of Helena presented ExplorationWorks with their Golden Legacy Award for 2017. This donation will help support ExplorationWorks’ Early Explorers program for preschoolers and their caregivers.

The Golden Legacy Award was established in 1987 for the purpose of making a significant contribution to our local communities and our state organization, of which Alpha is the Helena local chapter. The group selected ExplorationWorks this year as their area of interest.

“We are so pleased that the Alpha Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma has selected our organization as their Golden Legacy recipient,” said Nikki Anderson, Executive Director at ExplorationWorks. “Donations like these help keep programs such as Early Explorers available to everyone that visits the museum.”

Early Explorers education program gives preschool-aged children an opportunity to experience interactive, hands-on science activities led by skilled educators passionate about learning. The program is offered Tuesday through Friday at 10:30 a.m. and offers a variety of classes and topics each week. For more information about the types of programs ExplorationWorks offers, please visit www.explorationworks.org.


About ExplorationWorks
Since 2002, ExplorationWorks has been inspiring kids and their families to discover, explore, and develop a lifelong love for science. As one of only two science centers in Montana, ExplorationWorks offers hands-on exhibits, programs, workshops, classes, and camps for kids, youths, families, seniors, as well as school and community groups.

About Delta Kappa Gamma
Delta Kappa Gamma is a professional honor society of key women educators in the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Japan with a mission to promote professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education.

 


 

 

by Michael Siebert
UM Community News Service

The Montana Legislature is responsible for accomplishing a great deal during the 90 days it meets every two years.

But lawmakers are actually only constitutionally required to do one thing — create and pass a state budget.

Last week, the House of Representatives got one step closer to that goal. Fifty-six days into the session, legislators passed House Bill 2, the bill that lays out funding for every major state agency. Lawmakers allocated $10 billion in general fund money to be spent over two years. HB 2 will now move onto the Senate, which will make further amendments to the bill.

It sounds simple enough. But the budget has been one of the most contentious topics of the entire session, with legislators debating every nook and cranny in an effort to have their values represented.

The budget can also be difficult to understand. Even legislators have disagreements about what certain numbers or allocations mean. But, it also affects each and every Montanan. How the final budget shapes up will touch just about every aspect of life in Montana for the next two years.

The Basics

In order to understand why the budget is so important, it’s necessary to first understand where all that money goes.

“House Bill 2 quite simply is the money for the operation of state government,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton.

Ballance is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, or the group of representatives who put together the budget before it is sent to the rest of the House. They are also sent bills to determine whether or not they are financially feasible given the budgetary constraints of the year. The Appropriations Committee takes into account everything from the amount each state agency spends to the state’s projected revenue.

Because HB 2 covers so much territory, the greater appropriations committee also splits into multiple subcommittees. Those subcommittees deal with specific portions of the budget. This year’s budget is broken into five categories — General Government, Health and Human Services, Natural Resources and Transportation, Corrections and Public Safety and Education.

“We are very dependent on the research that the subcommittees have done,” said Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell.

In this particular session, however, the legislature had to make difficult choices about which areas to prioritize. First and foremost, they had to fill a significant budget shortfall. The 2015 session left an ending fund balance of around $270 million, but that was nearly depleted by the beginning of this year’s session, largely because of a drop in revenue coming in from oil and gas exploration.

Aside from filling the hole in the budget, the appropriations committees also must make sure that the state’s “essential services” are funded, and “to achieve structural balance as required by the Montana constitution,” Ballance said.

Why it matters

While these numbers can seem abstract, they have tangible effects on Montanans. Each section of the budget oversees a vast number of government agencies, programs and individual positions.

Section A, General Government, alone covers the Legislative Branch, the Governor’s Office, the Commissioner of Political Practices, the Office of the State Auditor, the Departments of Revenue, Commerce, Administration, Labor and Industry and Military Affairs, and all of the offices within those departments.

Each of those areas regulate everything from liquor sales to workplace safety, and must work within the confines of the budget they are given. The numbers dictated by the legislature for the biennium, or next two years, tell them exactly how much they’re allowed to spend. If, for example, the Department of Military Affairs determines they were not given enough money, they must still work within the confines of their allotted budget.

Usually, that means cuts. This session, in particular, has seen a significant amount of cuts, due in no small part to the revenue shortfall and lack of money leftover from last session.

Ballance said the cuts in the budget often reflect cutting money that went unused in the previous budget. One example Republicans pointed to is a program that provides care for low-income seniors and long-term care for disabled people. That program didn’t spend a large portion of its allocation in the last budget. In this budget, it could see a reduction of almost $44.2 million.

Nevertheless, many other areas are facing significant reductions too. The Addictive and Mental Disorders Division could see an additional $22.3 million in cuts. The entire meat inspection division of the Department of Livestock would receive no funding under the budget.

Much of this funding gets matching funds from the federal government as well, which is lost when the state dollars disappear. A failed amendment to the budget that would have cost roughly $5,000 in general fund money would have also brought in $800,000 in federal matching money to fund workplace safety programs.

Democrats in particular pointed to General Government, Health and Human Services and Education as problem areas.

Minority Leader Jenny Eck, D-Helena, went so far as to call the cuts “unacceptable.”

“These are deep cuts that will affect people's’ lives every single day,” Eck said. “We cannot go forward with a budget like this in good conscience.”

The split across party lines

While both parties were represented in the appropriations committees and subcommittees, Republicans hold a majority this session, with 59 representatives to 41 Democrats. That means Republicans are the primary drivers of what the budget will look like by the time the session concludes.

In the past, when Republicans held the majority, that wasn’t a problem. Minority Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, said in 2013 the budget was passed unanimously with no amendments.

This year was much different. When the budget entered second reading last week, Democrats used the opportunity to propose 26 different amendments to HB 2 during a marathon eight-hour floor session. The amendments attempted to fix what the party saw as budgetary shortcomings. Some were comparatively small, like an amendment to provide $32,000 for Indian language immersion programs. Others were substantially larger, like one that would have restored roughly $20 million in higher education funding.

“It was a long, hard day,” Eck said. “But that, to me is a success, to be fighting for our folks and making sure their voices are heard on the floor.”

But by the end of the day, every Democratic amendment had been shot down on party line or near-party line votes.

“We spent a whole day trying to fix it,” said Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula. “It’s a bad bill for Montana.”

However, Republicans argue the budget accomplishes nearly every goal the legislature set out to meet for the session. Ballance said most of the governor’s requests for cuts were fulfilled, and that all essential services received adequate funding.

“It was done without cutting existing services, without further burdening the taxpayers,” Ballance said.

It is now up to the Senate to make final adjustments to the budget. Once approved, it will be sent to Gov. Steve Bullock, who has authority to request line item changes or veto the entire budget.

Eck said the House missed an opportunity to create a more serviceable budget before it reaches the Senate.

“We could have a better budget right now if we chose to,” Eck said.

Michael Siebert is a reporter with the UM Community News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.