Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

'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.

Josh Burnham

Spring enrollment at the University of Montana is down 4.7 percent over last year. And enrollment at Missoula College is down 10.9 percent versus last year.

UM officials said the downturn was expected, and the current number meets the University’s enrollment and budget projections for this fiscal year.

The current student headcount at the University is 12,992.

UM President Royce Engstrom said the “enrollment picture remains challenging as several smaller classes continue to move through our system.

Eric Whitney

Governor Bullock's bill to expand Medicaid gets its first hearing in the state legislature on Friday. Watching closely will be Montana's hospitals.

To understand why, drop by an emergency room at one of Montana's bigger hospitals, like Benefis in Great Falls.

This ER serves about a quarter of the state's population. And 10 to 12 percent of Benefis' patients can't afford to pay their bills. Last year, that added up to $36 million in unpaid bills, or about three times the hospital's profit margin.

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced Tuesday it’s permanently closing its doors. The plant stopped production in 2009 during the height of the recession. The company was once a major employer in the Flathead Valley.

A skeleton crew has maintained Columbia Falls Aluminum Company for over 5 years as officials waited for the right time to reopen.

Word came this week that time will never come.

Company spokesman Haley Beaudry says several factors sealed the plant's fate including increased global competition and continued depressed aluminum prices.

The next time you drive through central or eastern Montana, look around. One of the farmers you see might be involved in a revolution.

Liz Carlisle is the author of a new book titled, Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America. She spent many months talking to Montana farmers about their revolt against corporate agribusiness, which has been going on for nearly three decades.

MTPR's Chérie Newman asked Liz how the Lentil Underground got its name.

Butte's American Legion baseball teams are now $1 million closer to a brand new facility at Copper Mountain Park.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation and Montana Resources contributed a total of $1 million to bring a proposed $2 million American Legion baseball facility to Butte.

Northwestern Energy will chip-in $50,000; half of that in cash, with the rest in the form of an in-kind labor donation to install lighting.

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent predicts lots of people will attend night games.

Nathan Kosted

Governor Steve Bullock’s Medicaid expansion plan gets its first hearing at the state legislature Friday, and that has groups for and against it trying to rally support.

The Koch brothers-funded group Americans For Prosperity, or AFP, unveiled new broadcast ads targeting Montana Republican representatives.

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

This week on Capitol Talk: Sally, Mike and Chuck look back at the week's events at the Montana Legislature, from the Flathead water compact, to dark money, to the death of the death penalty repeal.

William Marcus

State lawmakers are taking a five-day break before starting the second half of the 2015 legislature. While much of their work remains unfinished, one bill that’s already on its way to the Governor could set the stage for a showdown.

Community Medical Center, Missoula, MT
Josh Burnham

Attorney General Tim Fox says he needs more time to analyze how $65 million from the sale of Missoula’s Community Medical Center should be used.

Fox approved the sale itself January 12. Still pending is Community’s proposal for where money from the sale should go.

"Because the proposal was submitted rather late in the process, we felt we did not have sufficient time to review that," said John Barnes, spokesman for the attorney general.

Lawmakers Say Much Work Remains As Legislature Reaches Half-Way Point

Feb 27, 2015
Michael Wright - Community News Service

The Montana Legislature is at the half-way point of the scheduled 90-day session.

It’s more than just the numerical half-way point; it’s a key legislative deadline. All non-spending or non-tax bills had to meet the Day 45 deadline of being transmitted to the other chamber or they died.

Lawmakers will now have nearly a week off before they return to the Capitol to resume their work.

Yellowstone Public Radio’s Jackie Yamanaka talked to legislative leaders and the governor about the progress so far, and what lies ahead.

Legislators: Montana Entitled To Money From Public Land Sales

Feb 26, 2015
Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R) SD7
Montana Legislature

Thursday, the Montana Senate passed a bill to ask the Federal Government to pay up for lands they’ve sold off.

Republican Representative Jennifer Fielder says under the Enabling Act, the Government is supposed to pay the state 5 percent of whatever money it makes selling off public lands. Fielder said they’ve been shirking this duty, costing Montana money intended for schools.

“They’ve really never been asked for this, I think it’s just a small detail that’s been overlooked for a very long time.”

House Tax Cut Bill Faces Likely Veto

Feb 26, 2015
William Marcus

Thursday, the Montana House of Representatives passed a bill to increase tax cuts for all Montanans. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Keith Regier, brought this bill back to the House floor after a committee amended it to increase the tax cuts from .1 percent to .2 percent.

Regier says it’s good to give back when the government is in the black.

“A smart, responsible governor will recognize who’s funding the government and give them a break.”

Bill Diverts Coal Trust Taxes To Fund Infrastructure Projects

Feb 26, 2015
Montana Coal Council

The Montana Senate gave final approval to a pair of bills seeking to make long-term infrastructure investments using coal severance tax money. To do that, voters would be asked to approve a constitutional amendment.

The effort faces an uphill battle to get the necessary votes in the House to put the issue before voters.

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