Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

Montana lawmakers are moving closer to giving cities the power to deal with the problem of public intoxication.

Current state law treats alcoholism as a disease to be treated rather than a crime to be punished, but Billings city officials say that hampers their efforts to deal with public drunkenness, a problem that costs the city over eight million dollars a year.

State Budget On Next Week's Legislative Agenda

Mar 13, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Next week, the Montana House of Representatives will hear House Bill 2, the state budget bill. It arrives smaller than Gov. Steve Bullock requested, including a proposal to take away his plane, which he says is about party politics.

Gun safety advocates have begun a push to defeat several bills that expand gun rights in Montana.

The Montana chapter of “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense” is taking aim at two bills that would loosen the state’s concealed-carry laws, and another bill that would allow guns on college campuses.

They kicked off their drive with a capitol news conference, where one speaker was retired Lewistown educator John Moffatt, who was shot and nearly killed by a Junior High student in 1986. He doesn’t want guns on campus, and says students don’t them either.

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

This week on "Capitol Talk", Sally, Mike and Chuck cover pre-school education's tough reception at the legislature, the infrastructure funding debate, Medicaid expansion passions, and concealed carry on campus.

"Capitol Talk," our weekly legislative news and analysis program, appears on Fridays throughout the legislative session. MTPR's Sally Mauk is joined by Lee Newspapers reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison.

Tune in to "Capitol Talk" on your radio every Friday during the session at 6:35 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
 

Legislators Weigh Lawsuit Over Out Of State Coal Ports

Mar 13, 2015

Montana legislators are considering giving $1 million to the Montana Department of Justice for a potential lawsuit against states hindering Montana’s coal trains from getting to larger markets. Namely, markets like China.

Tax Cuts Advance Even As Ending Fund Balance Remains Unknown

Mar 13, 2015
William Marcus

The Republican-controlled legislature is closer to sending another tax cut proposal to Democratic Governor Steve Bullock’s desk. The governor has already vetoed one tax cut measure.

Senate Bill 200 would reduce the income tax rates and broaden the tax brackets. The bill also reduces the capital gains tax credit rate.

A pair of bills intended to increase privacy in the digital age are making their way through the Montana legislature. They were each heard today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vote on them later.

Eric Whitney

About 80 climate change activists rallied in Missoula this morning.

Led by Jeff Smith of the group 350Missoula, they gathered in front of Senator Steve Daines’ office here. There were there to, they said, “protest the senator’s denial of climate change science and his support for fossil fuel projects like coal exports, the Otter Creek Coal Mine, and the Keystone XL pipeline."

'Catastrophic Health Care Costs' Bill On Friday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 12, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Expanding healthcare is on the agenda yet again at the Montana Legislature Friday.

Republican Representative Art Wittich of Bozeman is carrying House Bill 582, and says it’s a part of the Republicans' alternative plans to the governor’s Medicaid expansion.

The Montana House has narrowly approved an updated list of mandatory vaccinations for Montana school students; even though the Senate rejected the House’s attempt to add an exemption for "personal beliefs."

Billings Representative Kathy Kelker, a Democrat, said states that allow children to go unvaccinated because of their parents’ "personal beliefs" have seen tragic results.

"The states who have had it, particularly California, are the ones where we now see outbreaks of epidemics of childhood diseases, the most recent being measles."

Every day millions of us create Facebook posts, Tweets, and other digital records of our lives. But what happens to all this content you’ve created, when you die? Montana could become one of the first states to answer that question as a matter of law. A bill heard Thursday morning in the House Judiciary Committee would give your survivors access to your data, unless you leave specific instructions to the contrary.

Missoula attorney Dirk Williams has a client whose son died suddenly, leaving behind important information that was locked inside password-protected computers.

House Votes To Criminalize Physician-Assisted Suicide

Mar 12, 2015
Michael Wright - Community News Service

UPDATE - 03/13/15: On third reading today, House Bill 477 criminalizing physician-assisted suicide failed on a 50 to 50 vote in the House.

Lawmakers Begin Debate On Infrastructure Bills

Mar 12, 2015
Rep. Nancy Ballance (R) HD87
Montana Legislature

One of the biggest disagreements at the state capitol this year is how Montana should fund roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Governor Steve Bullock’s “Build Montana” proposal is one big bill that would fund lots of different projects. It would pull funding from several different sources, including the state coal tax trust fund. Legislative Legal Services says, that means his bill would need to win votes from 75% of lawmakers. 

The House Appropriations Committee has begun examining funding for the various infrastructure projects proposed this legislative session.

Limits On Drone Use On Thursday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 11, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Thursday at the Montana legislature brings a bill that would limit the use of drones. House Bill 586 would ground these unmanned aerial vehicles if flown within about 3 miles of airports, areas of an emergency, or places where planes or helicopters are spraying.

The bill’s sponsor, Willis Curdy of Missoula, says he’s a commercial pilot himself, and has seen planes grounded because of drone use.

“Some operations had to have been terminated because drones have been in the area and aviators have not been able to continue with their mission.”

Webmaster 102 (CC-BY-3.0)

The Montana Senate Wednesday passed two gun-rights bills that are virtual copies of bills the Governor vetoed in the last session.

Libby Republican Chas Vincent presented his bill to eliminate the need for gun owners to obtain a concealed-carry permit. Vincent says it’s a minor change, since permits have not been needed outside city limits in Montana for over two decades.

"Since 1991, everybody’s been able to carry concealed outside of city limits. So for 24 years, and there hasn’t been any data to suggest that that has been a bad policy," said Vincent.

Christopher B. Allen

Montana politicians and activists are starting to reach out to the public in new ways, trying to appeal to a younger audience.

In a small apartment, a few blocks from the University of Montana campus, two students prepare to record a video for their YouTube channel. It’s about the latest from the Montana legislature, not exactly a mouse-click magnet for younger viewers. But co-host Lucy Peraino thinks their "Daily Show" style can get their attention.

Bridger Pipeline Company

Oil could soon start flowing again through a pipeline that was shut down in January after spilling 30,000 gallons of crude into Montana's Yellowstone River near Glendive.

Crews and federal inspectors are testing the integrity of a fifty-mile section of that pipeline. Bridger Pipeline spokesman Bill Salvin describes the re-starting process as, "slow, methodical, safe and designed to ensure that everything along the pipeline is working exactly as it needs to work."

The spill temporarily contaminated Glendive's water supply.

At least six Montana police departments, including Billings, Bozeman, and Missoula, are using armored vehicles similar to those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them are military surplus. 

Now the legislature is considering a bill that would ban local police from acquiring surplus “MRAPS” or “BEARCATS”, which have been criticized as a symptom of the militarization of police forces across the country. 

Republican Nick Schwaderer from Superior wrote the original bill to stop police from using military surplus combat gear.

Bill Requiring Anesthesia For Fetuses On Wednesday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 10, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Wednesday at the Montana Legislature brings a bill that would require anesthesia for fetuses before operations in the womb. House Bill 479 would also mandate testing on a fetus’ age and and if that fetus is at least 20 weeks old, anesthesia would be required.

State Income Tax Cut Advances To Full House

Mar 10, 2015
Sen. Duane Ankney (R) SD20
Montana Legislature

Today at the Montana Legislature, the House tax committee sent a tax-cut bill to the full House.

Duane Ankney of Colstrip is carrying Senate Bill 200, which would essentially cut one tenth of a percent off state income taxes, with lower-income Montanans getting a slightly bigger break.

Gun rights advocates are declaring victory over what they call the latest federal attempt at gun control.

A federal proposal to ban the general public's access to a specific kind of rifle ammunition is now, at least temporarily, off the table.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, is backing-down from a plan that would have banned ammunition the agency says is particularly dangerous to police.

Insure Montana Program Seeks State Funds To Continue Operation

Mar 10, 2015
William Marcus

A made-in Montana health insurance program aimed at helping small businesses cover their employees is seeking money from the general fund to continue operation.

Some members of the Senate Finance Committee question the expenditure since these workers could also get insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Insure Montana was created before the ACA became law. The intent was to help small businesses in Montana, initially those with nine or fewer employees, provide health insurance for their workers.

Montana is one of the last states where it’s legal to send a text message while driving, but that could change if the legislature approves a bill debated Tuesday in the state House.  

House Blocks Attempts To Revive Bullock's Medicaid Expansion Bill

Mar 10, 2015
Michael Wright - Community News Service

The Republican-controlled House officially killed the governor's Medicaid expansion proposal. That's because House Democrats failed to convince the Republican controlled chamber to reject the "do not pass" recommendation from the House Human Services Committee on the bill. That action came Friday night immediately after a nearly six-and-a-half hour-long hearing.

What happens when the price of oil tanks and suddenly you're faced with a whole lot less money to deal with your town's explosive growth?

If you're 52-year-old Rick Norby, you lose a lot of sleep.

"I haven't slept since I became mayor," he says. "I really ain't kidding you."

When Norby became mayor of Sidney, Mont., oil prices were about $100 a barrel. A year later, they've fallen to roughly half that. Yet oil production has continued to churn right along.

Guns On Campus On Tuesday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 9, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Tuesday brings round two for a bill at the Montana Legislature to allow guns on college campuses. Republican Senator Cary Smith of Billings is carrying Senate Bill 143, which would prohibit the Board of Regents from regulating gun possession.

“Well the main argument seems to be that they don’t think that college students are smart enough or bright enough or careful enough to have weapons and I just don’t agree with that.”

Democratic Senator Dick Barrett of Missoula, says it's not a question of if students can have guns, but who makes rules on campus.

'Dark Money' Disclosure Bill Survives Another Day

Mar 9, 2015
Montana Legislature

By a slim margin a Republican from Great Falls was able to get a campaign reform measure aimed at shining the light on so-called “dark money” sent to the House Business and Labor Committee for a hearing.

Representative Steve Fitzpatrick was worried it would not get a fair hearing in the House State Administration Committee.

"I think we all know why we’re doing this. It’s to avoid adverse committee reports and give the bill a fair hearing. Let’s give this bill a fair hearing. It will get that in Business and Labor," Fitzpatrick said.

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

Columbia Falls may know by autumn whether the now-closed aluminum smelter there will become a Superfund site.

Last Tuesday the owners of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced the smelter is permanently closing.

The next day the Environmental Protection Agency notified Governor Steve Bullock it proposes to add the plant to its priority list of industrial sites that should be cleaned.

Democrats Cry Foul Over Medicaid Expansion Vote

Mar 9, 2015
Steve Jess

Governor Bullock’s Medicaid expansion plan is apparently dead for this legislative session. Republicans on the House Human Services Committee voted to give it a “do not pass” recommendation, an unusual move that make resurrecting the bill very unlikely, and has drawn harsh criticism from Democrats.

William Marcus

Governor Bullock's Medicaid expansion plan was killed in the House Human Services Committee after almost seven hours of hearings and testimony Friday night. House Bill 249 was given an adverse committee report, or do-not-pass recommendation on a 10 to 7 party line vote.

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