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Saturday, April 25th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
AP-MT--Right Now/618
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force is charging two nuclear missile launch officers with illegal drug use.

The cases at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were linked to a separate Air Force investigation of exam cheating by Minuteman 3 nuclear missile officers.

The Air Force announced Friday that a week ago it charged 1st Lt. Michael Alonso and 1st Lt. Lantz Balthazar with a range of drug offenses. Each will be reviewed at what the military calls an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a court martial.

A spokesman at Malmstrom, Josh Aycock, said no hearing dates have been set.

Another Malmstrom missile officer, 2nd Lt. Nicole Dalmazzi, was court-martialed in January on drug charges.


BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A group of Montana lawyers says it is giving a lifetime achievement award to a state judge for his many years of service, despite the judge being censured last year for comments about a 14-year-old girl raped by her teacher.

The Yellowstone Area Bar Association on Friday issued a statement from its board of directors explaining its decision to honor former District Judge G. Todd Baugh of Billings.

The statement said Baugh's three decade career was worthy of recognition even though he made a "very public mistake" when he suggested the teen rape victim shared responsibility for the crime. Baugh sentenced perpetrator Stacey Dean Rambold to a month in prison in a decision overturned by the Montana Supreme Court.

Rambold was re-sentenced last year to a 10-year term. He's appealing.


HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Legislature has approved a two-year state budget after a committee added some $78 million to House and Senate proposals. The measure will go next to Gov. Steve Bullock for consideration.

Representatives passed House Bill 2 on third reading Friday morning by a vote of 81-19. Senators suspended procedural rules and voted twice to support the measure Friday afternoon. The final vote was 34-15.

A conference committee of House and Senate members charged with reaching a compromise approved about 30 amendments Thursday including adding $67 million to raise state employee wages. The two year budget totals about $10 billion, including federal spending.

The House passed a budget in March that Bullock said failed to fund critical services. The Legislature is required to pass a two-year state budget each session.


HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana senators have confirmed Jonathan Motl as the state's commissioner of political practices.

The Senate confirmed Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock's appointment on a vote of 29-21 Friday. Motl's term will end Dec. 31, 2016.

The Helena attorney has decided 120 campaign practice cases since he was appointed by Bullock in 2013. Motl has come under fire during those two years for what opponents call a bias against Republican candidates.

Republican Sen. Frederick Moore of Miles City said Motl has ruled against Republicans 11 percent more often than he's ruled against Democrats. Republican Sen. Jedediah Hinkle of Bozeman said Motl has registered as a lobbyist and emailed Democrats about how to vote this session.

Democratic Sen. Jon Sesso of Butte said the one-person ethics commission appointed by the governor is inherently partisan.


RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Big Sky Conference and the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority have reached a three-year deal to play the men's and women's basketball tournaments at Reno Events Center.

The agreement was announced Friday. The deal will start next season.

All 12 schools will participate in the tournaments that will extend over six days.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, April 24th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Judge who was censured over rape comments to receive award

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge who was censured by the state's high court for his comments about a 14-year-old rape victim has been chosen for a lifetime achievement award by his local bar association.

Yellowstone Area Bar Association President Jessica Fehr said Thursday that former state District Judge G. Todd Baugh was chosen for the award by the group's board of directors.

Fehr declined to say why Baugh was chosen or who nominated him.

Baugh sparked widespread outrage in 2013 over comments suggesting that a 14-year-old girl shared some responsibility for her rape by a teacher. He sentenced former teacher Stacey Rambold to just one month in prison in the case.

The victim had killed herself before trial.

Rambold was re-sentenced in September and is serving 10 years in Montana State Prison.


House endorses budget including state employee pay plan

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana state House has given initial approval on a two-year state budget bill that includes funding to raise state employee wages.

Representatives endorsed House Bill 2 by a vote of 86-14 Thursday with no votes coming from Republicans.

A committee charged with finding a budget compromise added about $67 million in funding Thursday to raise state employee pay.

Under the plan, state employees would receive 50 cents more an hour in January 2016 and again in January 2017 as well as increases in the state's contribution to health care costs.

Committee member Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance of Hamilton says they also found places to save money in the budget and that final numbers will be available Friday.

If the House passes the measure on third reading, it will go next to the Senate.


House endorses $150 million infrastructure bill

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The House has endorsed what will likely amount to roughly $150 million for infrastructure projects around the state.

Representatives voted 70-30 to approve the amended measure Thursday. A two-thirds majority is needed to advance the bill because it involves bonding. If passed on third reading, it will go to the Senate for consideration.

The measure would guarantee $90 million in cash and bonding for projects. Two-thirds of the money would go to water, sewer and roads projects while one-third would fund building projects including $7.6 million for state institutions in Warm Springs and Lewistown and over $18 million for Montana State University's Romney Hall.

It also allows the state to bond $10 million for the construction of a veterans' home in Butte which is slated to be paid back with federal funds.


Legislature OKs bill to close Montana Developmental Center

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Legislature has passed a proposal to phase out the Montana Developmental Center.

Senate Bill 411 passed a final vote of 44-6 in the Senate Thursday.

Proponents say years of assault and neglect have left the state with no other option than to close the facility, which employs about 250. The proposal would move the Boulder patients to community-based setting by July 2017.

Lawmakers heard emotional testimony on both sides of the issue from family members of some of the facility's 50 intellectually and mentally disabled clients.

Members of the House originally rejected the bill, but reversed their decision after adopting an amendment from Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton. The amendment added family members, a budget specialist, a workforce representative and a county commissioner to a board that will help plan the transition.


Lawmakers pass increased death certificate costs

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana lawmakers have green-lighted a plan to increase the cost of death certificates in order to continue funding funeral home inspections.

The House on Thursday passed House Bill 223, which the Senate agreed to Monday.

If signed by Gov. Steve Bullock, the two-year proposal would temporarily increase the cost of a certified death certificate from $3 to $15 with an $8 charge for additional certified copies ordered at the same time. Informational copies would cost $13.

The proposal would send $3 of each fee to the Board of Funeral Services, which conducts public health inspections of funeral homes and crematoriums.

A legislative interim committee would review next year whether the certificate fees could be a viable, long-term source of funding for the board, which in recent years has been in the red.


House OKs negotiated proposal for crime lab in Billings

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Lawmakers have negotiated a final version of a bill to create a state crime laboratory in Billings.

Representatives voted 95-3 and senators voted 44-6 Thursday to endorse House Bill 512. It still faces a final vote in both houses.

The proposal would provide about $1.5 million to create the state's second lab where criminal evidence could be tested. The joint committee set aside $724,000 for lab equipment and $476,000 on salaries and other operating expenses. The bill also includes $310,000 to lease a facility.

Funding was decreased from the original proposal of $7.6 million.

Supporters say the proposal would speed up testing for an increasing number of cases and save some officers from having to drive evidence across the state to the existing lab in Missoula.


Prosecutor questions slow pace of death penalty appeal

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Lawyers for a Wyoming inmate want an appeals court to give them 14 months to file a brief appealing a recent order that state prosecutors may again seek the death penalty against him.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson last year overturned the death sentence for 70-year-old inmate Dale Wayne Eaton.

Eaton was convicted in 2004 of murdering 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana.

Johnson ruled state prosecutors could ask another jury to sentence Eaton to death or keep him in prison for life.

Eaton's lawyers have appealed to a higher court in Denver. The Wyoming attorney general's office argues Eaton's lawyers should get only 60 days to file their brief.

Casper District Attorney Mike Blonigen originally prosecuted Eaton. He questions why Eaton's lawyers would need so much time.


Billings house explosion blamed on hash oil manufacturing

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Authorities say a Billings house explosion that left three men with critical injuries was caused by an ignition of butane being used to manufacture hash oil from marijuana.

Police Lt. Casey Hafner said the cause of Wednesday's blast was determined by agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives working with local authorities.

Hafner said a decision on whether to file charges will be made by the county attorney's office.

The explosion damaged the back wall of the house and blew out second-story windows.

Two 18-year-olds and a 21-year-old suffered serious burns and were flown to Denver and Salt Lake City for treatment.

Two explosions last year, in Hamilton and at the University of Montana, were blamed on hash oil manufacturing.


Woman pleads guilty in man's methadone overdose death

(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A Great Falls woman has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide for her role in the methadone overdose death of a 19-year-old man last year.

The Great Falls Tribune reports 50-year-old Cheryl Ingram Dagel entered her plea Wednesday under an agreement that recommends a 20-year prison sentence with five years suspended. A sentencing date has not been set.

Dagel acknowledged giving Cody Evans six or seven methadone pills on April 21, 2014, before telling him to "go easy on the stuff." He was found dead the next day.


Air Force vehicle on fire in central Montana

(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A Malmstrom Air Force base security forces vehicle carrying live ammunition caught fire on U.S. Highway 87 in central Montana.

The fire was reported at about 10 a.m. Thursday between Geyser and Stanford. It was reported out by mid-afternoon. People were kept away from the vehicle during the fire due to the risk of exploding ammunition.

The fire burned about an acre of ground around the vehicle. No one was injured.

The Great Falls Tribune reports airmen from Malmstrom's Explosive Ordinance Disposal team were inspecting the vehicle Thursday afternoon.

Traffic was re-directed around the incident, which happened northwest of Stanford.

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