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New West Daily Roundup for Feb. 20, 2017

Today in New West news: Utah Republican in hot water over equal pay comments, an update on Billings’ One Big Sky Center, and Wyoming regulators may start screening CBM operators.

Last week, then-vice chair of the Wasatch County Republican Party James Green had a letter published in the Park Record and the Wasatch Wave calling into the question the need for a bill legalizing equal pay in the state. Green’s rationale? That men were “the primary breadwinners” in households and offering equal pay would delegitimize women’s traditional role as “the Mother.” Here’s a quote of Green’s original letter:

If businesses are forced to pay women the same as male earnings, that means they will have to reduce the pay for the men they employ… simple economics. If that happens, then men will have an even more difficult time earning enough to support their families, which will mean more Mothers will be forced to leave the home (where they may prefer to be) to join the workforce to make up the difference.

According to the Washington Post, Green was writing in response to a senate bill recently introduced by a Republican colleague that would establish a commission to study the wage cap and set forth criteria for employers to follow going ahead:

Green’s comments were directed at Senate Bill 210, which would make changes to laws related to employee pay in the state. The bill, authored by state Sen. Jacob Anderegg, a fellow Utah Republican, would commission a study on whether there’s a pay gap between male and female workers in the state. It would require certain employers to adopt a uniform criteria that will be used to determine whether someone should get a raise based on performance, and would create a pay index that states the average pay range for each occupation based on years of experience.

SB 210 was introduced on Monday.

Green’s comments were swiftly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats as well as advocacy groups like The Utah Women’s Coalition. State Representative Tim Quinn, a Republican who represents Utah’s 54th district, which includes Wasatch County, told Fox affiliate KSTU, “I am shocked and appalled to learn how James Green feels about equal pay for women. I don’t know where this belief came from.”

Green wrote a follow-up letter, saying that “there was no offense intended toward Women, whatsoever,” while sticking to the gist of his initial letter. Indeed, Green wrote, “I want to clarify that the main focus of my letter was to express that I don’t feel the government should be dictating to private establishments what they must do in regard to employment, hiring, or wages,” adding that he himself “worked [his] fingers to the bone” so his wife could be a stay-at-home mom.

In light of his comments and the reaction to them, according to the Washington Post, Green resigned from his vice chair position.

Over in Montana, we’ve been following developments in the One Big Sky Center project proposed for Billings. The multi-use facility, which would include a conference center, hotel, residences, retail, and office space, reached a milestone back in November, when the city council voted 6-2 to approve a “pre-development memorandum of understanding.”

Now, according to the Billings Gazette, the City Council is set to meet tomorrow, February 21 to discuss updates to the proposal from One Big Sky’s developer, MontDevCo LLC. Specifically, MontDevCo is proposing to add a “senior living component” through Rocky Mountain Senior Housing, a Colorado company. From the Gazette:

Retail tenants at One Big Sky Center will include a brew pub and restaurant, a multi-screen theater complex and a 10-lane bowling center. It’ll also have a fitness center, retail banking center and quick-serve restaurant.

Of the 100,000 square feet of proposed office space, an anchor tenant has signed a lease for 50,000 square feet, according to MontDevCo. A potential second tenant would require 35,000 square feet, with an insurance company looking at 3,000 square feet.

MontDevCo seeks up to $35 million in tax increment financing as part of the $165 million it estimates it will need to complete the mixed-use development, which will sport Montana’s tallest building.

The partners say they’re still negotiating a development agreement with city officials and hope to complete the agreement for One Big Sky Center, between First and Second Avenue North at N. 30th St., in May.

The council will also hear testimony on bills dealing with infrastructure, public incapacitation, local option tax authority, and a Senate bill that would designate Airport Road from Main to the airport as “Sen. Conrad Burns Memorial Highway.”

Over in Wyoming, according to the Casper Star Tribune, state regulators are weighing whether to more stringently screen coal bed methane (CBM) operators, in light of the (seemingly terminal) bust that’s afflicted the industry for the past six years. Per the Tribune, regulators are stuck plugging abandoned or orphaned wells while operators “have either skipped town or are wading through the maze of bankruptcy while their idle wells and cleanup costs are held in limbo.”

To combat this, operators say they may start scrutinizing operators who “have failed to meet their responsibilities or have a history of insolvency,” increasing bonding or putting other protective measures in place. And if operators don’t comply with these standards, they don’t get to operate. From the Tribune:

The idea to make certain operators report to the state came up in Tuesday’s commission meeting in Casper, during a show cause hearing for Enpro/Medallion Exploration. The companies have both failed to properly plug abandoned wells and test existing wells as per state law. They’ve been before the commission on multiple occasions. President Jake Harouny of Utah did not appear for the hearing Tuesday.

State regulators, with commission approval, will immediately seal the one producing well to stem the flow of money to the company until other wells are plugged or tested. Harouny will have 60 days to comply before the remaining bonds are forfeited.

But the commission staff would like to take one more step: require Medallion’s principal to notify state regulators if he attempts to operate in Wyoming in the future.

“Staff has really lost faith in the ability of Mr. Harouny to operate an oil and gas company,” said Joe Scott, natural resources program supervisor for the commission. “This is a practice that’s done in other states and we think it would help us identify potential problem areas.”

The commissioners present were amenable to the idea but unsure of how to carry it out.

“I very much think this is something we should be doing, but we need to make sure we have the legal authority,” said commissioner Bridget Hill. “Probably we need to have some basis upon which we determine who it is we are going to make notify us … so we can apply that consistently.”

The commission’s lawyer, Eric Easton, said he believed requiring some producers to alert the commission was within the commission’s right. It would not restrict operators from working in Wyoming, a concern raised by commissioner Tom Fitzsimmons.

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