Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

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.

'Dark Money' Disclosure Bill Narrowly Passes Senate

Feb 26, 2015
William Marcus

The Senate gave final approval to a bill that would shine the light on so-called “dark money” donations in Montana’s political campaigns.

Senator Duane Ankney says when neighbors contribute to a political campaign, the candidate is required to report that person’s name, address, and occupation.

Montana Department of Transportation

As it rushed toward its mid-session break, the Montana Senate Thursday killed a bill to cut back on the corrosive de-icing chemicals sprayed on the state’s roadways each winter.

Republican Dee Brown of Hungry Horse says the Montana Transportation Department is using more salt-based chemicals to melt ice on Montana’s highways, potentially damaging not just cars and trucks, but the environment as well.

"I am very concerned that the runoff and continuing runoff of chloride-based products is not good for us," Brown said.

flickr user: Roy Luck (CC-BY-2.0)

A new analysis of train safety and recent accidents involving spilled crude oil has caught the attention of many Montanans, especially as more trains carrying oil are moving through the state.

That’s because a lot crude moves on our rail lines.

William Marcus

Supporters of the proposed Flathead Water Compact, involving the state, the federal government, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have a victory to celebrate. The compact, one of the most contentious issues of the current Legislative session not only survived a debate and vote in the Montana Senate, but did so with a sizable margin.

Anti-Bullying Bill Advances To Montana Senate

Feb 25, 2015
Montana Legislature

Today the Montana House of Representatives passed a bill that could finally place Montana alongside every other state in the union with an anti-bullying law. House Bill 284 would make bullying illegal, allowing for action to be taken in court.

Dark Money Bill On Thursday's Busy Legislative Agenda

Feb 25, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Thursday, Montana legislators will see plenty more bills on the House and Senate floors.

One of the larger bills will be in the Senate, when Republican Senator Duane Ankney presents his bill, Senate Bill 289, to fight dark money in politics.

Senate: Public Needs More Info On Montana Pipelines

Feb 25, 2015
Courtesy Bridger Pipeline LLC

Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale of Glendive says the public should have more information about the pipelines that cross Montana’s navigable rivers. A unanimous Senate agrees.

Senator Matt Rosendale of Glendive says he wanted to find out more about pipelines after crude oil poured into the Yellowstone River last month. It was the second time this happened since 2011.

Kaiser Family Foundation

Montana is doing a better job than most states at getting people signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 45 percent of Montanans who are eligible to buy insurance had done so, as of February 15. Those eligible to buy insurance are generally anyone who doesn’t already have coverage through their job, a spouse or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid.

Gov. Bullock's Preschool Program Faces GOP Opposition

Feb 24, 2015
Courtesy Photo

Representative Tom Woods sent his kids to preschool after searching for a couple of months to find the right fit.

“I’ve got kids. I’ve been through this,” Woods said in a recent interview. “Preschool helped them.”

Lawmakers Rush To Beat The Transmittal Deadline

Feb 24, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Wednesday at the Montana Legislature, nearly a hundred bills will be thrust onto the Senate and House Floors for debate. Ready or not.

Speaker of the House Republican Representative Austin Knudsen says he expects to hear at least 50 bills on Wednesday.

“If we go long and do lots of talking like we did yesterday, we could be on the floor all day. It kinda depends how chatty everyone is.”

The rush is due to something called transmittal. That is, the bills in the House must pass the floor and travel to the Senate, and vice versa, or they die by the Friday deadline.

Montana Legislature

The  Flathead Water Compact working its way through the Montana Legislature was briefly killed today, but quickly brought back to life.

Because the massive water-rights agreement contains $8 million for canal system upgrades, the bill was routed to the Senate finance Committee. There, Dayton Republican Janna Taylor tried to amend it to add financial accountability.

The Sponsor Republican Chas Vincent, saw ulterior motives.

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