Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

Rep. Ripley Would Cap Coal Trust At $1Billion

Feb 23, 2015
Flickr user wsilver

State lawmakers are considering a proposal to ask voters to cap the Constitutionally protected Coal Tax Trust at one-billion dollars. Senate Bill 353 would divert some of coal severance tax money that goes into the trust into an account to fund infrastructure projects. 

Sen. Brown: Reduce Road Salt

Feb 23, 2015
MT Department of Transportation

On Tuesday, Montana lawmakers will hear a bill that would reduce the amount of salty road de-icers used on streets and roads. 

A 2010 United States Geological Survey  report found that winter runoff can push significant amounts of the de-icer into streams, increasing their toxicity for fish and other aquatic life.

Republican Senator Dee Brown of Hungry Horse is carrying Senate Bill 369 and says it’s necessary to keep Montana water clear.

The Montana House Monday came within one vote of approving a bill to abolish the death penalty.

Helena Democrat Jenny Eck read a letter signed by 55 relatives of murder victims, urging the state to do away with capital punishment

“We know that elected officials who promote the death penalty often do so with the best intentions of helping family members like us," Eck read. "We are writing to say that there are better ways to help us. The death penalty is a broken and costly system. Montana doesn’t need it and victims’ families like ours don’t want it."

Montana Legislature

A Bozeman lawmaker wants to make big changes to the way the Montana Legislature does its work.

Currently, Montana legislators have just seven weeks from the time they’re elected until the legislature starts.

For newcomers it means a steep learning curve. Democrat Kathleen Williams says lawmakers could do a better job if they met after the election, just long enough to break up into committees, so they could study the issues facing the state for a full year, before holding their regular session. She’s sponsoring a bill to do that.

Transparency For Tribal Finances On Monday's Legislative Agenda

Feb 20, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Monday, Montana legislators will hear a bill to create a website so state tribal members can see the who, what, where and when of the money coming into the tribe.

Republican Representative Bruce Meyers of Box Elder says it’s important that Native American citizens get the same open government systems as other Montanans.

“We’re providing tribal members as Montana citizens transparency about budgets.”

Many question how much money goes to federal and state governments, worrying about corruption higher up in the chain.

The Montana Legislature took a step toward ratifying the state’s final outstanding water compact this morning, with a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The compact involving the federal government and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has drawn more heated debate than any issue except perhaps Medicaid expansion. 

Courtesy photo

Today in Missoula, Senator Steve Daines held the second of three meetings he’s called to talk timber issues. He’ll do the same in Bozeman tomorrow.

The Republican Freshman Senator is calling the meetings “Timber Management Reform Roundtables,” and he’s invited mostly timber industry representatives to give him input on what they need to maintain or grow their operations.

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

This week on "Capitol Talk": The Flathead water rights compact passes out of committee. A bill intended to "shine sunlight on dark money" is making its way through the process. Lawmakers heard testimony on one part of the GOP healthcare plan. And next Friday is the bill transmittal deadline and halfway point of the session

Flathead Water Compact Faces First Committee Vote Friday

Feb 19, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

On Friday, the Salish-Kootenai water compact faces its first big vote. If the Senate Judiciary Committee advances the bill, it will face the anger of irrigators who say they won’t get as much water.

Prohibition On Federal Land Sales Dies In Committee

Feb 19, 2015
Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R) SD7
Montana Legislature

A bill that would ban the federal government from selling public lands died today at the Montana Legislature, mostly because opponents said it is unconstitutional.

William Marcus

Some days you just can’t win...but you can tie, twice. It happened this week at the Montana State Capitol, as Montana Public Radio's Steve Jess explains.

Montana Legislature

A Democratic lawmaker wants to put limits on the use of solitary confinement in Montana prisons, but the warden of the men’s prison says it’s the only tool he has for dealing with some prisoners.

Representative Jenny Eck of Helena wants to place limits on how long, and for what reasons, a prisoner can be isolated from other inmates. 

Jackie Yamanaka

Another nearly 4-dozen Yellowstone National Park bison are scheduled to be loaded up today at the Stephens Creek Capture facility and delivered for slaughter in Big Timber and Columbus.

It’s part of the population control measures spelled out under the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

Yellowstone officials held a tour of the Stephens Creek facility yesterday.

Rick Wallen is the lead wildlife biologist for Yellowstone’s bison program.

courtesy photo

Yesterday, in a story about attempts to boost revenue for Montana counties that are mostly federal land, Montana Senator Jon Tester made the following statement: 

"Unfortunately, every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them."

Several listeners questioned that statement, so we asked Senator Tester to respond. 

His communications director Marnee Banks said he is unavailable this week.

The deadline to buy health insurance at was Sunday, and a lot more people in Montana did that this year than did last year.

“It’s encouraging to us that more than 54,000 Montanans went to to purchase their health insurance,” said Jesse Laslovich, chief legal counsel for Montana’s insurance commissioner.

That’s compared to about 37,000 last year.

Rep. Nancy Ballance (R) HD87
Montana Legislature

Montana lawmakers took testimony Wednesday on the first of several bills designed to expand healthcare coverage in Montana without the full-scale Medicaid expansion Governor Steve Bullock is proposing.

Eric Whitney

Montana's U.S. senators are getting behind a new bill they say will help Montana's most rural counties round-out their budgets.

Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons says communities like his are reeling after Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act last fall.

Online Privacy Bills On Thursday's Legislative Agenda

Feb 18, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Thursday at the Montana Capitol, legislators will hear bills to increase Montanans' privacy on their iPads, smartphones, and even online.

Bill Making 3rd DUI A Felony Dies In Committee

Feb 18, 2015
Montana Legislature

Wednesday, Montana legislators killed a bill that would have made a 3rd DUI offense a felony. Under current state law, the 3rd offense has a maximum sentence of one year in jail and $5,000 fine. Under the bill, this would increase to a maximum of 5 years and $10,000 fine.

Montana Legislature

One day after the Montana House voted down a bill that would criminalize doctor-assisted suicide, another bill was introduced with the same goal.

Libby Republican representative Jerry Bennett wants to change the current law against assisting a suicide, to allow doctors to be prosecuted.

The Montana House Wednesday approved a bill to let anyone carry a concealed weapon if they’re legally eligible to own a handgun. Gun owners would no longer need to get a concealed-carry permit.

Republican representative Bill Harris of Winnett said mass shootings, like the one in a Colorado theater in 2012, might not happen if more people carried concealed weapons.

FH Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, MT
Eric Whitney

Tuesday in Columbia Falls, Senator Steve Daines kicked off a series of three meetings in western Montana that he’s calling “Forest Management Reform Roundtables.”

Around the table were executives from three timber mills, county commissioners from Sanders, Lincoln and Mineral counties, and Montana leaders of The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy,  and the National Parks Conservation Organization.

House Defeats Bill Criminalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide

Feb 17, 2015
William Marcus

The Montana House narrowly defeated a bill that said doctors could face criminal charges for prescribing life-ending medications even if the patient made the request.

Republican Medicaid Bill On Wednesday's Legislative Agenda

Feb 17, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Wednesday at the Montana legislature, the Republicans lay out the start of their own version of Medicaid expansion. Republican Representative Nancy Ballance is carrying House Bill 455, which would extend state insurance coverage to people with disabilities, low-income parents and veterans.

She says this would only include about 10,000 of the approximate 70,000 Montanans without insurance, because she says many of those people are “working-age adults with no kids and no disabilities.”

Bill Would Force Police To Prove Confiscated Assets Were Used For Crime

Feb 17, 2015
Montana Legislature

Today at the Montana Capitol, legislators joined the national conversation about civil asset forfeiture, or, put simply, police taking money and property before they charge someone. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Representative Kelly McCarthy, is teaming up with Republican Representative Daniel Zolnikov to promote House Bill 463, which he says would force police to prove that the assets they confiscate were used in a crime.

Montana Legislature

Billings Republican Daniel Zolnikov claims police are abusing laws that let them seize property from suspected drug offenders. He claims police seized $10,000 in cash from an out of state motorist pulled over for expired plates. Zolnikov says police took the money even though the man was never charged with a crime.

“This, mister chairman and members of the committee, is what I would consider literal highway robbery,” Zolnikov testified.

He says he can’t name the citizen, or the agency involved, because the case is still being litigated.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester has signed-on to a new bill that he says would bring badly-needed financial security to Montana's most rural and timber-dependent counties.

Senator Tester says the "Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes Repair Act" would annually reauthorize Montana's SRS payments for three years at $23 million, the level provided in 2011.

Eric Whitney

On the calendar it may have been Presidents Day, but for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday was no holiday.

Flathead Water Compact On Monday's Legislative Agenda

Feb 13, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Monday, the Montana legislature will hear the bill to pass the Salish-Kootenai water compact, essentially mapping out water rights for the Flathead reservation and surrounding area. The bill’s sponsor is Republican Senator Chas Vincent of Libby, who was the compact’s opposition last session. He says, even amid death threats, he believes this year’s compact is better and absolutely necessary to ensure Montana keeps it’s water.

Montana Legislators Debate Constitutional Convention For Balanced Budget Amendment

Feb 13, 2015
Rep. Matthew Monforton
Montana Legislature

Montana legislators disagree on whether to call for another Constitutional Convention, and it’s not along party lines. Republican Representative Matthew Monforton is proposing Montana join a growing number of states, now at 24, to meet to change the United States Constitution to require Congress to balance their budget.

Democratic Missoula Representatives Nate McConnell and Andrew Person are part of the committee that passed this resolution to the House floor. Though they generally agree, on this vote, they didn’t.