Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

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.

Medicaid Expansion Debate Begins At The Montana Legislature

Mar 6, 2015
Montana House Speaker Austin Knudsen (R) HD34
Montana Legislature

Before the hearing on Gov. Bullock's Medicaid expansion bill began, the Republican majority took another jab at the bill.

TVMT

The House Human Services committee borrowed the old Supreme Court chamber for a hearing on Medicaid expansion that drew an overflow crowd and is expected to run into the evening.

School Funding Changes Pass Montana Senate

Mar 6, 2015
William Marcus

Today, Montana state Senators voted to pass a bill to give schools bordering Montana’s oil country more of the taxes generated from oil development in their area.

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

Today on Capitol Talk: Sally, Chuck and Mike discuss the state budget, discordant revenue estimates, Medicaid expansion, "silver bullets", the governor's airplane, and James Carville's speechmaking prowess.

"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.

Montana Legislature

A Kalispell lawmaker is trying to stop doctors from offering abortion by telemedicine, a practice that is not yet available in Montana.

Republican Keith Regier calls them “webcam abortions”; a woman meeting with a doctor over a remote video connection, to get a prescription to terminate her pregnancy. So far no clinic in Montana offers abortion services over telemedicine, and Regier wants it to stay that way.

Senate Approves State Income Tax Simplification

Mar 5, 2015

The chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee again is trying to simplify Montana’s income tax system. For the second time, the Senate gave initial approval to Senate Bill 171 on a 28-to-20 vote.

Gov. Bullock's Medicaid Expansion Bill Gets First Hearing Friday

Mar 5, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Friday, legislators hear Governor Bullock’s Medicaid expansion bill, House Bill 249. It faces an uphill battle from the start.

Lawmakers Consider Cuts To Commissioner Of Political Practices Budget

Mar 5, 2015
State of Montana

Today at the Montana Legislature, Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl argued that state lawmakers need to fully fund his department or he won’t be able to prosecute politicians abusing the system.

Lawmakers are considering a cut of about $100,000 from the commissioner's proposed budget, including eliminating the prosecuting attorney.

“It takes away the only attorney in the state of Montana who is dedicated to enforcement of Montana’s Campaign Practice Act.”

Montana Senate Votes To Ban E-Cigarettes For Minors

Mar 5, 2015

The Montana Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill to prohibit minors to buy or possess electronic cigarettes.

Rep. Art Wittich (R) HD68
Montana Legislature

Montana lawmakers continue to look for ways to curb what they see as overreach by the federal government.

Eric Whitney

A couple of programs for senior citizens and children in Montana are facing a volunteer shortage. That could mean reduced federal funding if target numbers aren’t met.

"As of a couple of days ago we were about a dozen short," said Megan Grotzke with Rocky Mountain Development Council in Helena. "There’s a greater need for at this point for foster grandparent volunteers."

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

To many Columbia Falls residents the full closure of the local aluminum smelter was more a matter of when than if.

That question was answered with certainty this week when Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced that it's permanently shuttering the plant.

Local real estate agent Bill Dakin say this development was a long time coming.

"This announcement, finally, an honest announcement that this plant will never refine aluminum again, is kind of a new day here."

These Bills Died In The First Half Of The Montana Legislature's Session

Mar 3, 2015
William Marcus

Nearly 350 bill proposals have died in the Montana Legislature’s first half. Because of that, here’s some of what will stay the same in the state.

The minimum wage won’t increase for a while, speed limits will stay at 75, physicians can still aid terminal patients in dying, and the state's death penalty stands. People can still be thrown out of their house or fired for their gender identity or sexual expression.

The federal government will still be able to sell public lands in Montana. Brewers still have to jump through legal hoops to get a liquor license for a bar.

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