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Wednesday, March 29th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MDT

House panel revives, passes $33M infrastructure bonding bill

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana House committee has revived and passed a $33 million infrastructure bonding bill a day after voting against it.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 18-4 Tuesday to advance the bill to the House floor, where it is expected to be heard on Wednesday.

Most Democrats on the committee had blasted the bill because it did not include $45 million in large building projects in Montana's urban areas. Rather, it contained funding for water, sewer, road and bridge projects in mostly rural areas.

Several of the Democrats changed their votes on Tuesday. Democratic Rep. Kelly McCarthy says he and the others flipped when there seemed to be enough Republican votes to advance a bill they favor.

That bill would increase the state's lodging tax to pay for a new Montana Historical Society museum.


Billings Clinic terminates nurse for stealing patient drugs

(Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Billings hospital has fired a nurse accused of stealing narcotics intended for patients and replacing the drugs with saline.

The Billings Gazette reports that the nurse worked with catheter lab patients at the Billings Clinic. Hospital staff issued letters on Monday alerting more than 340 patients who could have been impacted by the theft of fentanyl possibly dating back to October.

So far, no patients have reported feeling any unusual discomfort during their procedures.

Hospital officials were notified of the allegations earlier this month after the nurse's colleague reported irregularities with a cabinet where the hospital stores controlled substances.

The letter issued to patients informs them that fentanyl costs will be removed from their bill and that they're at no risk of contracting hepatitis C or HIV.



Montana Senate endorses concealed weapons bills

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Senators have tentatively approved a measure granting themselves the right to carry concealed weapons in the state Capitol and other state property.

The chamber endorsed the bill 33-17 on Tuesday. The House had already ratified the proposal last month but will reconsider it after the Senate decided to also allow the body's sergeant-at-arms the same privilege.

The Senate also endorsed, 31-19, a House measure that would allow concealed weapons in restaurants, as long as alcohol is not the primary product of the establishment.

Senate President Scott Sales of Bozeman argued that legislators should have the option to carry concealed weapons for protection against constituents who could turn violent.

But Democratic Sen. Carlie Boland of Great Falls said she would feel no safer knowing a colleague was armed.


Grand Teton's main road opens for bikers, pedestrians

(Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com)

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — The main road through Grand Teton National Park has been plowed clear of snow and is opening up for nonmotorized recreational use.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports that Teton Park Road will be open to pedestrians and bikers through May 1.

The annual opening of the 14-mile road from Taggart Lake trailhead to Signal Mountain Lodge typically attracts hundreds of visitors who come out to enjoy the views each day.

Park spokeswoman Denise Germann says National Park Service vehicles will still be in use along other roads and visitors are cautioned to steer clear of plows and other heavy equipment.

She's also warning visitors to be careful on Teton Park Road, as some parts could still be icy in coming weeks.



Senate panel adds money for health, education in budget

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana Senate committee is adding money to the state budget for programs in education and health care.

The additions by the Senate Finance and Claims Committee on Tuesday include $10 million for nursing homes and $1.2 million for special education.

Additional funding was inserted for high school vocational education, the Montana Digital Academy, a youth suicide prevention grant program and a new psychiatry residency program, among others.

Republican leaders until now have drawn a hard line against spending increases or new programs during a tight budget cycle, and many other funding requests were denied on Tuesday.

To pay for the additions in education, the committee plans to temporarily eliminate funding for school district block grants. The effect would be a $40 million decrease in state money going to school districts' general funds over the next two years.


Police: Bus shooting suspect says he feared other passenger

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A police report says a man accused of killing one man and wounding another on a double-decker Las Vegas Strip transit bus told detectives he felt threatened by a man who sat near him and was trying to scare him with gunfire.

Rolando Cardenas told detectives following a standoff and his surrender Saturday that he was unemployed and homeless.

He said he thought he heard the large man say he would attack him before he pulled a gun and fired twice.

Police say video on the bus didn't show any provocation for the shooting, and the man Cardenas described wasn't injured.

A Montana man was killed and a Las Vegas man was wounded.

Police say Cardenas threw a police robot out of the bus during a four-hour standoff, and fired twice at a SWAT camera before tossing the gun out a window and surrendering.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, March 28th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MDT

House panel rejects $33M infrastructure bill by Republicans

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A House panel has rejected an infrastructure bill to use bonds to fund $33 million worth of public works projects across Montana.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 13-9 against the bill on Monday. The measure had angered Democrats by removing several large building projects and led the governor's office to warn that it might result in the state failing to pass a bonding bill this session.

That leaves a $98 million bonding bill by state Sen. Eric Moore of Miles City. Moore's bill includes projects like $25 million to renovate Montana State University's Romney Hall and $10 million for a new veterans' home for Butte.

The question is whether the Republican lawmakers in the House will agree with that level of state debt for building projects, along with school, roads, bridges, sewer and water projects.


Spring weather starting to bring out bears in Montana

(Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Black bears and grizzly bears have started leaving their dens as spring weather has taken hold in western Montana.

The Missoulian reports Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says residents should avoid attracting bears by taking down bird feeders, not leaving out garbage and cleaning up chicken and livestock feed.

Wildlife biologists say they've set a trap for one bear that's been spotted recently in Arlee but have had no luck catching the animal.

After a long winter hibernation, bears are seeking out new grass and other vegetation to get their digestive systems up and running again.

Agency officials warn residents to be on the lookout for both bears and mountain lions this spring.

They also are reminding people that it's illegal to intentionally feed those animals in Montana.



Cost for Montana to comply with REAL ID over $2M per year

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A bill to make Montana compliant with federal driver's license rules would cost the state more than $2 million a year for the next four years.

But if it doesn't pass, Montana residents won't be able to use their state-issued licenses to board airplanes starting in January.

State lawmakers have resisted complying with the 2005 federal REAL ID Act over concerns of privacy. The Legislature passed a law in 2007 forbidding the state from issuing the enhanced identification cards.

The proposal by Democratic Sen. Jill Cohenour of East Helena would give Montanans the option of choosing a license that meets the federal requirements.

Cohenour told the Senate State Administration Committee on Monday it would cost the state $2.6 million to implement in the first year, and go down after that.


Montana caregivers push for wage hike for disabled services

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — More than a dozen caregivers and advocates are pushing for raises for 3,000 people who provide direct care for some 5,800 developmentally disabled people across Montana.

Some of the Republican lawmakers who previously opposed spending increases for such services appeared ready to back them on Monday.

The bill by Republican Rep. Jon Knokey of Bozeman would increase the average starting wage from $10.15 an hour to $15 an hour by 2019.

The caregivers' wages are set by state government through provider rates.

Knokey and the caregivers who testified Monday before the House Appropriations Committee say the low wages creates high turnover and leaves many of the caregivers in need of public assistance themselves.

Republican Rep. Rob Cook of Conrad says the $10 million cost to Montana is small compared to the state health department's overall budget.


Bill would require schools to set suicide prevention plans

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate has passed a bill that would require local school boards to establish policies and procedures for youth suicide prevention and response.

The bill, by Republican Rep. Dennis Lenz of Billings, passed on a 48-2 vote on Monday.

It returns to the House for approval of a Senate amendment that clarifies the bill does not impose a "specific duty of care," that could be the subject of a lawsuit. The bill passed the House 87-12 in February.

Also Monday, the Montana House narrowly endorsed a measure that sought to create a grant program for schools to implement suicide prevention plans, but had the funding stripped out of it. The bill passed 52-47 on second reading. It faces a third-reading vote before it can move to the Senate.


Weekly prison visitation days cut from 4 to 2

DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — The Montana State Prison is cutting inmate visitation from four days a week to two due to a staff shortage.

Warden Leroy Kirkegard said Monday the prison is canceling Thursday and Friday visitation, beginning April 6, to allow staff to be reassigned to higher priority security posts.

The change means all visitors, including children, can visit on Saturdays with adults only on Sundays.

Kirkegard says normal visitation days will be reinstated as soon as possible.

The state jobs website lists 25 openings for correctional officers. Prison spokeswoman Amy Barton says correctional officers are working mandatory overtime to cover shifts.

In May 2014, the prison temporarily suspended Wednesday and Thursday visitation while continuing visits Friday through Sunday. In July 2014 the prison had 65 openings for correctional officers.

Barton says Wednesday visitation was never restored.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, March 27th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MDT

Study: Livestock grazing can benefit struggling bird species

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A new study suggests some livestock grazing can benefit a ground-dwelling bird that's suffered a dramatic population decline across its 11-state range in the U.S. West.

Grazing on land occupied by greater sage grouse has been frequently cited as a reason for the bird's decline, along with disease, oil and gas drilling and other factors.

But researchers now say that grazing late in the season can actually help sage grouse.

That's in part because late-season grazing leaves in place for longer the grasses and other vegetation that sage grouse nest in. Late-season grazing also can stimulate the growth of vegetation that sage grouse eat.

The findings by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado State University and Utah State University were published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications.


Man convicted in 2003 double murder dies in Montana prison

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A man serving a life sentence in the brutal 2003 killings of an estranged couple has died in a Montana prison.

Montana Department of Corrections spokeswoman Amy Barton said 66-year-old Mark Misner died at the state prison in Deer Lodge following an extended illness.

Misner was convicted in Cascade County in 2005 on two counts of deliberate homicide in the deaths of Wanda "Lynn" Hutchison and Danny Ray Hutchison in Great Falls.

Authorities said the couple had been trying to evict Misner from Danny Hutchison's house when they were killed. Lynn Hutchison was beaten so badly that investigators could not immediately tell she also had been shot.

Misner was also serving time on a 2010 conviction in Toole County for assaulting a peace officer.


The Latest: Police: 'No apparent reason' for Vegas shooting

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Police say a man sitting at the back of a public bus on the Las Vegas Strip started shooting "for no apparent reason" as passengers got off at a stop in the heart of the tourism corridor.

Police said Sunday that 55-year-old Rolando Cardenas is accused in the shooting. Authorities say he surrendered peacefully after a standoff inside the double-decker bus that lasted more than four hours Saturday.

He has been booked into jail on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, burglary and opening fire on the bus. An attorney for Cardenas couldn't immediately be found.

The bus had stopped on the Strip near the Cosmopolitan hotel-casino. Police say passengers were leaving when Cardenas stood up and fired several rounds from a handgun.

Two people nearby were struck, including a Montana man who died.


Few prosecutions for rape cases in Montana's largest county

(Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — None of the 60 rape cases reported last year in Montana's most populous county resulted in charges as police and prosecutors struggled to get the cases to trial.

The Billings Gazette reported on Sunday that over the past five years Yellowstone County has prosecuted only about 15 percent of adult rape cases that were investigated and forwarded for possible charges.

County officials blamed the lack of prosecutions on the hesitance of some victims to press charges and the reluctance of juries to convict defendants of rape.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice rebuked Missoula County authorities for prosecuting just 17 percent of rape cases that were referred by police investigators between 2008 and 2012.



Boating rules in place for Tiber, Canyon Ferry reservoirs

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — New boating rules are in place for Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs after the discovery of invasive mussel larvae at Tiber and a suspected sample at Canyon Ferry.

Boaters will be required to launch and exit Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs at designated boat ramps unless the boats are certified to remain only in one of those waters.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries chief Eileen Ryce says the designated ramps at the reservoirs near Chester and Helena will have inspection and decontamination stations.

The "local boater" program will allow watercraft owners to complete educational training on aquatic invasive species and sign an agreement pledging only to use the boat at either Tiber or Canyon Ferry reservoir.

Local boaters would not be required to decontaminate their boat each time they leave.


Man charged with 1987 rape seeks dismissal of charges

(Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The attorney for a man charged with raping an 8-year-old Billings girl in 1987 has filed a motion to dismiss the charge.

The motion argues the statute of limitations for the rape charge expired before a 2007 law was passed allowing for sex crimes to be charged for up to one year after a DNA match is made.

Ronald Dwight Tipton is charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Billings Gazette reports that DNA evidence linked Tipton to the case in 2014, after he agreed to submit to DNA testing as part of his suspended sentence in a drug case.

Another man was convicted of the rape and spent 15 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him in 2002.


Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.