Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

William Marcus

For the past two days, the Montana House was locked into something that resembled a scene out of the movie Groundhog Day. First, a member would stand up and introduce an amendment to the state budget.

For example, an amendment to add some money for the board of pardons and parole. Then there would be a short debate about the amendment. This would take anywhere from two minutes to an hour or more. And finally the amendment would be rejected on a party line vote.

And, back to square one.

And so on, and so on, a total of 73 times.

Lawmakers Will Consider Body Cameras For Police Friday

Mar 19, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Friday at the Montana Legislature, lawmakers will discuss body cameras for cops. Democrat Rep. Bridget Smith of Wolf Point is carrying a resolution to study the effects of requiring Montana police officers to wear so-called body cams.

“And we will look into ... the compelling reasons why, this would be good for Montanans.”

But the cost may be too high. A 2014 Department of Justice study says the average price of cameras police stations buy is between $800 and $1,200 each.

GOP Medicaid Expansion Bill On Friday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 19, 2015

A new bill to expand Medicaid in Montana gets its first hearing in the state legislature tomorrow. Republican Ed Buttrey of Great Falls’ bill would expand the health program for the poor, elderly and disabled to an estimated 45,000 Montanans.

House Republicans Block Funding Increases For Correctional System

Mar 19, 2015

Today at the Montana Legislature, Democrats pleaded for more money for people working within the Montana correctional system. They asked for raises for public defenders, more parole officers, and raises for officers in the state prison. Democrat Mitch Tropila says the wages are too low for state prison guards, making overtime mandatory and a hard job harder.

“Whenever they have to open one of the gate, they’re subject to having the inmates’ bodily fluids thrown at them, in their face, on their body. But they’re down there every day, they’re down there 24/7, 365.”

Courtesy Photo

Among the dozens of amendments that Democrats sponsored to add spending to the $10 billion state budget, was one to enact the Governor’s $37 million pre-school plan.

The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee stripped it out of the budget bill over a week ago, but the Democratic minority tried to convince the whole House to put it back in.

Missoula Democrat Nancy Wilson says as the world gets more complicated, kids need to start learning earlier.

Budget Hearings Continue Thursday At The Montana Legislature

Mar 18, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Thursday, the Montana House of Representatives continue hearings for the statewide budget. It’s unlikely to change, even though it faces more than 100 Democratic amendments, because of strong Republican support of the current bill.

Michael Wright - Community News Service

The Montana House set aside its usual schedule Wednesday for a marathon floor session devoted to the state budget.

Democrats brought up 40 amendments to increase funding for a wide range of state departments, restoring money that the House Appropriations Committee cut from the governor’s budget proposal. The Republican majority rejected most of them on party-line votes.

One amendment that came close to passing was Butte Democrat Ryan Lynch’s proposal to restore $700,000 cut from the Governor’s office, including $330,000 for the executive airplane.

The state Revenue Department has intercepted 529 fraudulent returns totaling almost $583,000 since tax season opened January 20.

Department spokeswoman, Molly Peterson, says most of the phony returns are the result of identity theft.

"For example, when a large corporation has its credit card information stolen from all of its customers, tax fraudsters can take that information and use it to file fraudulent tax returns."

Peterson says it's tough to find and prosecute tax return scammers because they're so good at covering their tracks.

Cheri Trusler

Attorneys presented their opening arguments today in the city of Missoula’s lawsuit to force the sale of its water utility from current owners, Mountain Water Company and the Carlyle Group. The city filed the suit nearly a year ago, claiming it's in the best interest of Missoulians for the city to operate it instead of a private company.

Montana Republicans Divided Over Open Primaries

Mar 18, 2015
Michael Wright - UM Community News Service

Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, the tall, bespectacled Republican from Great Falls, stood up on the House floor in late February and explained his bill that would allow local political party officers to be appointed by the state party instead of elected in primary elections.

But the bill was about something bigger, Montana’s century-old open primary law.

“It’s really a fundamental question with this bill,” Fitzpatrick said. “Do you believe in open primaries or do you believe in closed primaries?”

shannonpatrick17 (CC-BY-2.0)

Montana Lawmakers are considering a resolution asking Congress and the President to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has already vetoed once. Malta Republican Representative Mike Lang told the Senate Energy Committee the pipeline promises benefits for the state and the nation as a whole.

"Pipelines are the safest, most reliable, economical, and environmentally favorable way to transport oil and other petroleum products. Presently, a lot of people don’t know but in Montana, 88 percent of the oil that’s in our refineries comes from Canada, right now, today."

State Budget Hearings Begin Wednesday At The Montana Legislature

Mar 17, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Wednesday, the debate at the Montana Legislature begins over the state-wide budget in House Bill 2. The bill gained only Republican support out of committee because it was more than $100 million less than the governor asked for.

Josh Burnham

The city of Missoula’s attempt to seize ownership of its water from its current owner will begin in district court tomorrow. The city is suing The Carlyle Group, a global private firm, for ownership of Mountain Water Company.

Gathered in front of the county courthouse Tuesday afternoon, nearly 70 Missoulians sang, spoke and chanted in support of the city's effort.

City Councilman Jason Wiener was quite clear about where he stood on the issue.

Another Medicaid Expansion Plan Introduced At The Montana Legislature

Mar 17, 2015
Sen. Ed Buttrey (R) SD13
Montana Legislature

The latest proposal to expand health insurance coverage for the working poor is scheduled for a legislative hearing Friday.

Supporters Pack Hearing On Gov's Infrastructure Plan

Mar 17, 2015
Eric Whitney

Supporters for infrastructure projects across Montana packed the House Appropriations Committee Monday afternoon to speak in favor of the governor's funding plan. The hearing was a stark contrast to last week's hearings on the GOP's alternate infrastructure bills.

The GOP proposals for infrastructure is found in House Bills 6, 7, 8, 11, 15, and 403. These bills were heard last week. There were few proponents; all were opposed by the Bullock Administration.

Former Montana Senator, and current Ambassador to China, Max Baucus returned to his home state for the first time in over a year Monday night.

Baucus addressed a Montana Chamber of Commerce gathering in Helena. He said China's economic output is on track to surpass the U.S. in about 10 years, but that means increased opportunities for some Montana industries, such as energy. Montana can supply China with coal, and with technology to burn that coal cleanly, now that China has agreed to slow its growth in carbon emissions.

New Montana Crime Lab On Tuesday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 16, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Tuesday, Montana legislators hear a bill that would set aside money to build a crime lab in Eastern Montana.

Republican Representative Dale Mortensen is sponsoring House Bill 512, and is a former police officer who now works as a private investigator in Billings.

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is revising its forest plan for the first time since 1986. The plan lays out what is and isn’t possible on 2.4 million acres of federal land from Seeley Lake to the Canadian border.

Montana Lawmakers Hear State Employee Pay Plan

Mar 16, 2015
Rep. Nancy Ballance (R) HD87
Montana Legislature

A standing room only crowd packed into the hearing room for the state employee pay plan. Members of the House Appropriations Committee are considering whether to implement the pay plan agreement reached between the Bullock administration and the various public employee unions.

Sheila Hogan heads the Department of Administration. She was one of several agency administrators who spoke in favor of the pay plan.

Courtesy Bridger Pipeline LLC

Glendive's water supply was shut down briefly this weekend due to contamination from the January 17 oil spill into the Yellowstone River.

Equipment installed near Glendive's water intake system detected elevated levels of volatile organic compounds early Saturday morning.

That prompted city officials to issue an advisory to conserve water. That forced residents to rely on bottle water through the weekend.

That advisory has since been lifted.

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."

Pages