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Dear Friend,

Most names of newsletters are nouns: The Morning Brew. The Skimm. The Daily Beast. The Sunday Long Read. The Lowdown.

We spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to invent a name for our new one. We considered and discarded a lot of nouns and a recycling bin full of “the” along the way. Then someone (if I recall correctly, and I do, it was me) almost accidentally and then quite vehemently suggested “Capitolized.”

I appreciate a punning misspelling as much as the next editor, but what I really like is that the word is such an unstably evocative verb/adjective hybrid. (Proper grammarians are invited to correct me at “Capitolized” isn’t an object or a thing, but an action, a quality, a condition, a state — get it? — of being.

Anyway, the rest of the staff humored me and now MTFP’s latest original newsletter is called Capitolized. Its lead writer is political reporter Arren Kimbel-Sannit, and the rest of our whip-smart journalists will contribute their kaleidoscopic expertise. It will deliver the news and the people and the actions and the scenes of the community of the state Capitol in its full-fledged governmental glory and/or ignominy during the 68th Montana Legislature.

We launched a trial-balloon version of Capitolized on Thursday and we’re proud of it already. We think you’ll find it insightful, accurate, entertaining, informative, and necessary. We think you should sign up to receive it and check it out.

A few things you should know:

  • It’s free, just like everything MTFP produces.
  • It will be unpredictably periodic until the session starts Jan. 2, and then hit a regular stride of twice weekly, with special editions as the news demands.
  • It will go behind the headlines. It may sometimes go over the headlines’ heads.
  • It will respect your time.
  • It will be true.
  • It will deliver a view that only reporters in a position to see can deliver.

(Also: Capitolized is not The Lowdown (the newsletter you’re reading now). Nor is Capitolized MTFP’s standard daily or weekly story roundup newsletter. All those newsletters will remain in the MTFP lineup. Capitolized is new, special for the session. If you want it, you’ll need to sign up for it especially.)

I’m convinced — and Arren and everyone else here is working hard to make sure — you’ll be glad you did.

Brad Tyer, Editor

By the Numbers 🔢

Average annual increase in state General Fund spending proposed by Gov. Greg Gianforte’s 2023-25 budget. That’s equivalent to about $122 million in new spending annually during the two-year fiscal biennium that runs from July 2023 to June 2025, or roughly $111 per Montana resident. Gianforte’s Budget Director, Ryan Osmundson, argued in a press briefing this week that the increase represents a “very conservative budget” given the economy’s rapid rate of inflation, estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics at 14% nationally over the last two years.

Eric Dietrich, Deputy Editor

Hot Potato 🥔

Over the last few months, one small corner of state government has been responsible for twice stalling Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s attempts at reforming Montana’s childcare regulations. The derailment isn’t because of oppositional lawsuits or state judges, but rather a handful of lawmakers, mostly Republicans, who have voted to object to the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ proposed changes.

The power to block administrative rule reforms rests with the legislative committee that oversees the relevant department. In this case, that’s the 10-member Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee, made up of five Republicans and five Democrats.

In August, lawmakers on the committee voted 9-1 to block the Gianforte administration’s proposed rule to broaden religious exemption rules for vaccines in childcare settings, albeit for a marked variety of reasons. Republican lawmakers said they didn’t like how the rule change would add regulations for informal childcare groups that are not currently required to be licensed. Democrats, on the other hand, said less stringent vaccine requirements would risk outbreaks of serious illnesses among children and staff. After the committee’s vote for a procedure known as an “informal objection,” the rule change was put on ice until late January.

Months later, the state health department, spearheaded by Director Charlie Brereton, proposed a new overhaul of childcare regulations, including changes to religious exemptions, ratios between children and staff, and licensure requirements. Again, lawmakers on the committee voted on Nov. 15 to object to the entire slate of changes. This time, the opposition votes included all five of the committee’s Republicans, plus Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, D-Missoula, who decided not to run for re-election this year. A staff member for the committee said the objection will block the department’s rule change from going into effect until the end of April 2023, unless the Legislature decides to address the matter during the upcoming session.

Three Republican lawmakers contacted by MTFP this week were unavailable or did not respond to a request for comment about their votes.

A department spokesperson said the agency is “determining next steps” about how to move forward in light of the committee’s vote. The public meeting to discuss the most recent slate of proposed changes remains scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 28.

Even while the department’s longer list of childcare changes is on hold, there is one policy tweak that Gianforte’s administration plans to keep in place: a decision to step back from enforcing the current rules for vaccinations and religious exemptions at childcare settings, which MTFP wrote about a few weeks ago. In that case, the department’s decision is, apparently, beyond the Legislature’s powers of objection.

Mara Silvers, Reporter

Verbatim 💬

“Plaintiffs have sufficiently shown the imminence of over-harvesting of wolves near the national parks, and that the use of snares and the increase in the ‘bag limit’ could amplify wolf kills in a way that limits the Court’s ability to provide relief, should relief be warranted.”

— Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Christopher Abbott in a ruling granting a partial restraining order to environmental groups seeking to nullify 2022-2023 wolf regulations. Abbott’s order is set to expire the day after a Nov. 28 hearing in Helena where parties to the suit, including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, will make their case before the court.

Public Comment 🗣

Fairview Mountain in the Crazy Mountains. Credit: Ecoflight Credit: Ecoflight

The Forest Service announced last week that a land swap involving more than 15 square miles across a three-county region is out for public comment.

The East Crazy Inspiration Divide Land Exchange calls for the Custer Gallatin National Forest to trade 4,135 acres of federal land for 6,430 acres of private land in Park, Sweetgrass and Madison counties. The swap, which has a Crazy Mountains component and a Big Sky component, was at least three years in the making.

If approved, landowners advocating for the swap would construct a new trail on the east side of the Crazies in exchange for the Forest Service’s agreement to surrender claims on a historical Forest Service trail along the eastern edge of the range, the East Trunk Trail.

In a Nov. 15 public meeting about the proposal, Custer Gallatin Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson called such land swaps a “really a big deal” in her request that interested parties engage with the details of the exchange.

“They’re long-term commitments of resources, long-term choices that affect people and users and habitat forever, really — for decades to come,” she said. “Take the time, read the maps, look at the documents.”

Additional details about the land exchange are available in the 59-page preliminary environmental assessment the Forest Service released Nov. 9, and in this story we published Thursday. The agency is accepting comments through Dec. 23.

—Amanda Eggert, Reporter

On Our Radar 

Amanda — The CSKT Water Compact has made it through several big executive and legislative hoops in the last seven years, but it’s not across the finish line yet. The Montana Water Court is taking comment on the water rights settlement until Dec. 6 ahead of a likely hearing. This Daily Inter Lake piece is a good primer on what’s in the agreement and what’s next for the compact.

Alex — I just finished a gripping memoir by Taylor Brorby, whose “Boys and Oil” chronicles his experience growing up gay in our shared home state of North Dakota. It was a surreal read, chock full of familiar characters, and a rare opportunity to see a place I thought I knew so well reframed by someone who faced a landscape of adversity I’d failed to notice even as I walked the hallways of the very same high school.

Arren — Montana’s Rep. Matt Rosendale is among the Republicans challenging the House Speaker bid of former House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, per Lee newspapers’ Tom Lutey. Montana’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines is also making moves nationally — he was named chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Lutey reported.

Eric — State officials in Washington think the Seattle area needs a new Sea-Tac-sized airport, the Seattle Times reports — though, inevitably, no one wants it in their backyard. (Related: a few years back we wrote about how airports are crucial economic drivers in Montana.)

Mara — A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that rates of home births increased 12% in 2021 compared to the previous year. That’s after a 22% bump from 2019 to 2020, likely attributable to pregnant people avoiding hospitals during the first year of the pandemic. It’ll be fascinating to see if that trend holds steady or grows in coming years.

*Some articles may be behind a paywall.