Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

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.

http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2195006

A new study says that the youth suicide rate in rural America is growing, compared to the number of youth suicides in cities.

Ryan White wrote about the study for the website Reporting on Health.  He is a contributing editor at the website. White talked to MTPR News Director Eric Whitney about a new study in JAMA Pediatrics that shows youth suicide rates are twice as high in rural counties as in cities.

 

A Glacier National Park ranger shot and killed a mountain lion this weekend as it fought with a park employee's dog.

The dog took a beating, but expected to fully recover,  after tangling with the big cat late Saturday afternoon.

William Marcus

The issue of health care was in play again today in the Montana Legislature. On the day when three Republican health-care proposals were voted down on the floor of the Montana House, yet another proposal got its first hearing in the Senate Health Committee.

UM Warns Of Hantavirus In Missoula County

Mar 20, 2015
Flickr user: Aurel (CC-BY-2.0)

The University of Montana says it’s been notified of a case of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in Missoula County. Hantavirus can cause severe respiratory symptoms and death. The University says that it’s been in contact with county and state offices of public health. At this time neither Missoula county nor the state are confirming the Hantavirus infection.

Scholarships For In-State Students On Mondays Legislative Agenda

Mar 20, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Montana Legislators will hear a bill Monday that would create scholarships for students going to college for science, technology, engineering, math or health care. House Bill 617 would give a $1,000 scholarship for in-state college students’ first year, doubling it for the second.

Lawmakers Consider Police Body Camera Study

Mar 20, 2015
William Marcus

Today at the Montana Legislature, the House Judiciary Committee heard a request to study the use of body cameras on police officers statewide.

The Montana Police Protective Association supports the study, but has concerns that police body cam use post-Ferguson is far too unregulated and has led to confusion.

Mark Murphy of the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police agrees.

“Government has no right to privacy, but everybody that we deal with does have a right to privacy.”

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

On this episode of "Capitol Talk": The House passed a budget on a party-line vote after shutting down every Democratic amendment. "It was very acrimonious and quite a contrast from two years ago when the budget bill passed the House by a 100 to nothing margin," Chuck Johnson says.

Public Intoxication Bill Dies In House Committee

Mar 20, 2015
Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez
Montana Legislature

A bill intended to deal with public intoxication appears to have died in a House committee. It was brought on behalf of the City of Billings. The bill was killed despite unanimous support for several amendments that sought to clarify its intent.

Hacking Rural Medicine

Most of Montana’s hospitals are small and rural. And these are hard times for small town hospitals. The National Rural Health Association says about 300 rural hospitals are in danger of having to close in the next few years.

Monica Bourgeau is an executive with a federally funded project to help Montana hospitals adapt to the rapid changes in healthcare and survive.

"Rural healthcare is really facing a lot of kind of new and unique challenges right now."

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.

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
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?”

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