Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

Sen. Ed Buttrey (R) SD13
Montana Legislature

Tuesday brings a crucial test for Medicaid expansion in Montana. Republican Senator Ed Buttrey’s bill to offer the government-funded health coverage to about 70,000 more Montanans faces a hearing before the same committee that killed a similar proposal by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

Flickr User Ian Sane CC-BY-2.0

Last week, a citizen’s advisory group to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks started fundraising to produce an education campaign in direct response to controversial "crowd-shooting" incidents last November.

U.S. National Interagency Fire Center

Montana's active wildfire season is just around the corner. Every single federal, state and local wildland firefighter assigned to fire duty is required to carry a fire shelter. They’re thin, silica-impregnated tents laminated with aluminum foil, and are proven lifesavers. Now, the Forest Service is working on making them even better.

William Marcus

The Montana Legislature is taking a spring break through Monday as it prepares for its final four weeks of work. MTPR Capitol Reporter Steve Jess has a look at what lawmakers have done so far.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released their latest wolf count on Thursday. Fewer wolf deaths were reported in Montana in 2014 than in the previous year, but the population is trending downward.

Eliza Wiley

This week's "Capitol Talk" covers the Senate changes to the state budget, the competing infrastructure bills, the upcoming effort to keep a compromise Medicaid expansion bill alive, the surprise defeat of the bill to allow concealed carry on campus and the narrow defeat of the so-called religious freedom bill.

Senate Committee Restores Some Funding Cut By House

Apr 3, 2015
William Marcus

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee added about $55 million of general fund dollars back into the state budget. That’s according to preliminary figures from the Legislative Fiscal Division.

Not quite half of that amount was to cover cost over-runs in the current biennium.

This year’s cost overruns total about $31 million.

Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Democrats in the Montana House are fighting to keep a Medicaid expansion bill alive. Tuesday morning the bill goes before the same committee that killed a previous Medicaid bill.

Catherine Cain

A state veterinarian says that a strain of bird flu found in a captive falcon in Columbia Falls has the potential to significantly impact poultry farmers in the state. So far, this is the only case of the H5N2 bird flu strain in Montana.

Eric Whitney

We’re continuing our series of interviews with people involved in writing new Flathead Forest plan. One of those people is Amy Robinson, a staffer for the Montana Wilderness Association. Robinson talks about her organization's vision for the Flathead National Forest.

Eric Whitney

Backcountry skier Ryan Swantner is willing to work hard to get in his turns, but lately he’s had to work harder than usual.

Tax Breaks For Private School Tuition On Next Week's Legislative Agenda

Apr 1, 2015
William Marcus

Legislators head into an early spring break April 2, but will be back next week to hear some of the most contentious bills including the Salish Kootenai Water Compact, Medicaid expansion and tax breaks.

Rep. Art Wittich (R) HD68
Montana Legislature

The only Medicaid expansion plan that’s still alive in the Montana Legislature has been assigned to a House Committee; the same committee that killed Governor Bullock’s original Medicaid expansion plan last month.

Montana hunters won a victory in the state House Wednesday as lawmakers and the Governor came together over a bill to let sportsmen used sound suppressors on their rifles.

Sound suppressors quiet the noise of a rifle to reduce ear damage to the hunter. Many hunters like them, but game wardens oppose them, because they say suppressors help poachers get away with breaking the law. 

Denise Dowling

College-bound high school seniors are hearing back from their chosen schools this week and they’re finding out which universities want them and how much they’re willing to offer in scholarships and financial aid.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald are on a two-day tour of the state, visiting VA facilities in Helena, Missoula, and Billings.

Tuesday morning they were at Fort Harrison in Helena. McDonald says it’s the 120th VA facility he’s toured since taking over the troubled agency last July. 

McDonald and Tester sat down with about one hundred veterans and active service members, along with representatives of a range of interest groups, for a round-table discussion.

Veterans' Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is hearing a range of concerns about his agency’s performance on a two-day tour of VA facilities in Montana.

With Senator Jon Tester at his side, VA secretary McDonald listened to representatives of various groups, from mental health advocates to the American Legion, spell out what the VA needs to do to better serve the thousands of veterans across the state. He said the fact that Montana’s VA Health Care System went without a permanent director for eight months is a symptom of the problems his agency is facing.

Campus Concealed-Carry Bill Fails In The House

Mar 31, 2015
Webmaster 102 (CC-BY-3.0)

Today at the Montana Legislature, the House of Representatives voted down a bill to allow concealed weapons on college campuses. After passing the Senate 26-23, House Democrats and a few Republicans succeeded in defeating Senate Bill 143.

Montana has the most tribal colleges in the country, and it’s the only state with one on every reservation. But together, all seven tribal colleges educate hundreds of non-tribal students as well, many of them white students.

Laura John, a tribal analyst with the Montana Budget and Policy Center says non-Tribal student enrollment in tribal colleges is growing.

"The tribal colleges have seen, overall, a 25 percent increase between 2009 and what’s projected for 2016-2017," according to John.

Neptune Aviation air tanker on the Mountain Fire
Steve Whitby/Neptune Aviation

A Missoula aviation company is anxiously waiting to find out how many more of its air tankers will be dumping slurry on wildfires.

Lawmakers Debate Cuts To Office Of Political Practices

Mar 30, 2015
State of Montana

Today at the Montana Legislature, state Senators discussed taking away a full-time attorney for the office of the Commissioner of Political Practices.

As written, the commissioner, Jonathan Motl, says the state budget would force him to contract out for an attorney, potentially costing more money for less experience.

Motl says his office may have more complaints due to the increased use of corporate money under the Citizens United ruling.

Governor's Plane Cut From State Budget

Mar 30, 2015
Montana Legislature

Governor Steve Bullock could be forced to rent a plane after Republican Representatives stripped his from the statewide budget earlier this month.

Today in the Senate, Republican Jim Keane of Butte argued that this is a bad, politically-driven decision.

“Why, you talk about fiscal responsibility, don’t you think that not allowing the chief executive of the state of Montana to have a plane is appropriate?”

Health insurance plans in Montana would have to offer some policies that didn’t cover abortion services, under a bill heard today in a House Committee.

The bill would guarantee that customers who didn’t want their premiums going to pay for abortions could choose a policy from any provider on the insurance exchange that was abortion-free, except for cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life, cases where the law requires all policies to cover abortion. That drew objections from several advocacy groups.

Medicaid Expansion Compromise Clears Montana Senate

Mar 30, 2015
William Marcus

Senator Ed Buttrey says he's pleased his bill to extend Medicaid coverage to the state's working poor won final approval in the Senate.

BLM (CC-BY-2.0)

A total of 35 wildfires ignited this weekend in south-central and southeastern Montana. Firefighters are battling the largest of them, a 3,000 acre wildfire, and preparing for more unfavorable conditions.

Bill Prohibits Drivers License Revocation For Student Loan Default

Mar 30, 2015
Montana Legislature

A Montana law that allows the state to revoke peoples’ drivers licenses for defaulting on their student loans appears headed for the scrap heap.

On Friday a bill to take away the state’s revocation authority passed the Senate and is now headed to Governor Steve Bullock’s desk.

The revocation law was passed in 1997, and gives the state the right to revoke professional licenses, too, like ones needed to work as a nurse or engineer.

Republican Infrastructure Bills Advance Through Montana Legislature

Mar 30, 2015
William Marcus

Several infrastructure bills are working their way through the Montana Legislature, but not the one proposed by the Bullock Administration.

Budget Director: House Budget Inadequate

Mar 30, 2015
Rep. Nancy Ballance (R) HD87
Montana Legislature

The state budget director criticized the work of the House on the state's budget for the coming biennium.

The comments came as the Senate Finance and Claims Committee started its review this morning.

State Budget Director Dan Villa didn't pull any punches in describing the work of the House on the budget.

During this week's Capitol Talk, Sally, Chuck and Mike look forward to what's sure to be a heated debate in the House over Republican Sen. Edward Buttrey's Medicaid bill to expand coverage to the working poor.

They also discuss Republican Rep. Duane Ankney's dark money bill as it takes a step closer the Gov. Bullock's desk.

"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.

Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez
Montana Legislature

Montana House members have defeated a “religious freedom” bill, after impassioned testimony from those who felt it would enable discrimination.  

The bill is similar to ones that have drawn protests and boycotts in other states.  While supporters saw it as a way to ensure that government would not interfere in the free expression of religion, opponents saw another agenda: enabling businesses to refuse service to customers because of their race or sexual orientation. 

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