Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

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. 

Public Domain

Two mass elk shootings in November and December that angered many in Montana have prompted a hunting group to launch an ethical hunting campaign.

Mike England is with the Bozeman-based Citizens’ Advisory Committee, a public group that gives feedback to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. His says the irresponsible behavior of the hunters who surrounded and shot into elk herds last last year near Helena motivated his group to move from advice to action.

Rep. Matthew Monforton
Montana Legislature

The Montana House Thursday approved a measure to ask voters if they want to define “personhood” from the moment of conception – a move that could outlaw abortion and even some birth-control methods. However, the constitutional amendment is still unlikely to appear on a state ballot.

Eric Whitney

The Montana Senate today gave preliminary approval to a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to the state's working poor on a 28 to 22 vote.

House Passes Dark Money Bill

Mar 26, 2015
Courtesy Photo

Ten Republican Representatives joined all 41 Democrats and gave preliminary approval to a bill aimed at shining light on so-called "dark money" campaign contributions Thursday.

During the two hour long House Floor debate there were moments of testy remarks among Republicans.

Basically Senate Bill 289 seeks to require candidates to provide more detailed campaign expenditure reports and do so more often.

Republican Medicaid Expansion Plan Blasted To Senate Floor

Mar 26, 2015
Courtesy Photo

A Senator from Great Falls successfully blasted his bill to provide health insurance for the working poor to the full Senate for debate Thursday.

Senate Bill 405 already has had two committee hearings, but  the sponsor is worried a deadline could kill his bill.

That's because there is a Tuesday deadline to transmit appropriation and revenue bills from one chamber to the other.

poplarresponse.com

Two and a half months after a pipeline ruptured, spilling 30,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River at Glendive, The federal Environmental Protection Agency has handed over the management of the cleanup effort. Jeni Flatow with Montana DEQ says federal law allows the EPA to take charge of “emergency responses," and the Montana spill no longer qualifies.

Rep. Carl Glimm (R) HD6
Montana Legislature

A wide array of interest groups and state officials lined up to testify against a bill that purports to give Montanans more religious freedom, because they say it would only guarantee the freedom to discriminate.

Carl Glimm, a Republican Representative from Ashley Lake, is sponsoring a bill that, he says, would ensure that the government could not infringe on a person’s religious rights unless it had a “compelling interest” in doing so.

For Senator Buttrey, Medicaid Expansion Is A Riddle And A Risk

Mar 25, 2015
Sen. Ed Buttrey (R) SD13
Montana Legislature

Middle ground on Medicaid expansion eluded the Montana Legislature in 2013, and since then Senator Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, has studied the issue, talked to hospitals and members of the other party and others to get to where he was last week: standing in front of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee.

Criminalizing Physician Assisted Suicide On Thursday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 25, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Thursday at the Montana Legislature will bring round two for a bill that would make it a crime for doctors to help someone die, making them face up to 10 years in jail and/or a $50,000 fine.

Dems Promise 'Silver Bullet' To Keep Governor's Infrastructure Bill Alive

Mar 25, 2015
Rep. Nancy Ballance (R) HD87
Montana Legislature

The fight over how to fund infrastructure projects in Montana continues in the state legislature.

Montana Legislature

The Montana House today Tuesday passed a bill requiring fetuses past twenty weeks of gestation to be anesthetized before any surgery. The sponsor denies that the bill is about abortion, but opponents aren’t convinced.

Albert Olszewski, the Kalispell Republican who’s pushing this bill, says surgery on fetuses still in the womb is becoming an accepted practice.

Montana Bill Takes Aim At Animal Fight Spectators

Mar 24, 2015
William Marcus

Wednesday at the Montana Legislature, lawmakers hear a bill that would criminalize the act of watching animal fights. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Tom Richmond, says it aims to give police an extra tool for catching organizers of the events and to stop anyone from encouraging this felony-level crime.

“They are participants in the activities. They’re there to gamble or to watch the blood sport, or whatever you want to call it. But they are there with the purpose of watching an animal fight.”

Complaints Bring Legislative Scrutiny For Shelby Private Prison

Mar 24, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Montana legislators heard a resolution today to study complaints about the state’s one privately operated prison in Shelby. The study could potentially lead to it’s closure.

Former Senator Terry Murphy was part of a group that previously studied all Montana correctional systems, and he says major complaints at the Shelby prison concern food quality, severe under-staffing and medical attention for inmates.

Commercial dog and cat breeders would come under state supervision, if a bill introduced Tuesday in the Montana House becomes law.

Billings Democratic Representative Margie MacDonald says the discovery in 2011 of a Malamute breeding kennel in Jefferson County, where 160 dogs were found in filthy cages with little food or water, inspired her to write a bill requiring commercial pet breeders to be licensed and regulated.

The Federal Aviation Administration today approved expansion of the Powder River Training Complex, a huge new airspace for military bombers to practice. It covers portions of Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

Montana’s congressional delegation fought the expansion, saying it will disrupt agriculture and interfere with operations at rural airports.

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

The Environmental Protection Agency now formally proposes adding the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company to the National Superfund List.

That makes the former smelter eligible for additional study and cleanup resources.

Cyanide, fluoride and various metals have been detected in soils, surface ponds and groundwater at the now-closed Columbia Falls smelter. That's why city manager, Susan Nicosia, supports the EPA's proposal to add the site to its priorities list.

The lone surviving bill seeking to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor will have another hearing tomorrow at the Montana Legislature.

This action comes on the heels of the bill stalling last night in the Senate Public Health Committee.

Coal & Oil Taxes On Tuesday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 23, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Tuesday at the Montana Legislature, one state legislator goes on the defensive to protect Colstrip power plants and the surrounding community. Senator Duane Ankney is from Colstrip and says House Bill 402 is meant to keep the coal-fired plants in business.

Recently, Washington’s state Senate passed a bill to research the effects of Washington utilities closing some coal-powered utilities including the Colstrip Generating Station, which is partially owned by Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy.

Montana Lawmakers Clash Over State Revenue Estimate

Mar 23, 2015
Montana Legislature

Lawmakers are considering whether to increase the amount of revenue the state of Montana is projected to collect in taxes and fees over the coming three years.

The revenue estimate is an important number for lawmakers to consider as they craft the state budget and consider tax cuts for the coming two years.

The proposed figure is the latest compromise.

The Montana House is considering whether hunters should be allowed to use rifles fitted with sound suppressors, a move that’s favored by hunting organizations but opposed by game wardens.

Suppressors are not the silencers we often see in movies but they do cut down the sound, or “report” from a hunting rifle. Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association says suppressors are allowed in 34 other states because they help protect a hunter’s hearing, in situations where it’s not practical to wear earplugs or earmuffs.

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