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Sunday, February 19th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 1:20 a.m. MST
METH CRISIS

Montana officials alarmed by rise in meth use

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Panelists at a drug summit convened by the Montana Legislature say state resources are being strained because of an increase in methamphetamine use.

Law enforcement officials say meth use in Montana continues to rise. Meanwhile, authorities are bracing for a rise in heroin use as the drug further encroaches into the rural state. Officials say both drugs are flowing in from Mexican drug cartels.

Bryan Lockerby with the Montana Department of Criminal Investigations told legislators on Saturday that the prevalence of meth is the worst it's been. In 2015, the state's crime lab analyzed about twice the number of samples as two years prior.

Montana health officials say that meth-related cases account for more than 40 percent of the caseload being handled by the state's child and family services.

YELLOWSTONE COUGAR STUDY

Yellowstone study tracks cougars post wolf reintroduction

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Researchers in Yellowstone National Park are getting a better understanding of secretive cougars through DNA analysis of scat and hair, along with photographs and specially equipped GPS collars.

Dan Stahler, manager of the Cougar Project, tells The Billings Gazette the work builds on a study by biologist Toni Ruth between 1998 and 2005 that documented changes in cougar populations following the reintroduction of wolves.

The latest study shows that a fairly stable population of cougars roams the rugged region between the Lamar Valley and Gardiner known as the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Although elk numbers before wolf reintroduction in 1995 hit about 19,000, they have since plummeted to what has become a new normal of about 4,800. Stahler says that surprisingly, although their main prey source has been depleted, cougar numbers seem to have stayed about the same.

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OUTDOOR RETAILER SHOW-MONTANA

Montana wants to host lucrative Outdoor Retailer show

(Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com)

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock's office says Montana is interested in hosting the lucrative Outdoor Retailer trade show after organizers decided to move it from Salt Lake City over a disagreement with Utah leaders about their stance on public lands.

Governor spokeswoman Ronja Abel tells The Bozeman Daily Chronicle "Montana is a pretty good place for something like that," and possible locations are being assessed.

The show announced the move Thursday after previously threatening to leave Utah if Gov. Gary Herbert didn't stand down from his call for President Trump to rescind the new Bears Ears National Monument.

The event has grown from 5,000 people at the first show in 1996 to about 29,000 last summer. It attracted an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending to Utah during the two shows held each year.

Colorado also has expressed interest.

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OPI-POLICY REVIEW COST

Office of Public Instruction policy review could cost $2,850

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A review of the policies and procedures of the Office of Public Instruction could cost up to $2,850.

The Billings Gazette reports the office contracted with CMS Communication and Management Services for the review after Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen announced in January that Montana was out of compliance with federal testing regulations.

Montana received a federal waiver to use the ACT to evaluate juniors rather than Smarter Balanced tests, which rate students with four categories.

Former Superintendent Denise Juneau said the state didn't have an approved formula to convert ACT scores to Smarter Balanced scores. Test results were all reported as proficient, and Juneau's office planned to revise them later.

The contract with CMS says the review will ensure future compliance and that employees have appropriate venues to report violations of standards or policy.

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MONTANA BUDGET-FOSTER CARE

Panel OKs increase in foster care funding, with a catch

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A budget panel has approved a $6 million increase over the next two years for Montana to deal with the growing number of children in foster care.

But the $16 million approved Friday by the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services comes with caveats.

It would be a one-time only appropriation. Republicans leading the panel say they want to see the department come up with a strategy by 2019 to address the problem.

Rep. Marilyn Ryan of Missoula and Sen. Mary Caferro of Helena, both Democrats, voted against the restriction. Ryan says the department needs funding stability to handle the crisis in foster care.

There are more than 3,400 children in the state's foster care system, which is a record.

The subcommittee's vote is only the first step in the session's lengthy budget negotiation process.

EDUCATION FUNDING

Democrats slam state schools chief as "missing in action"

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Legislative Democrats are criticizing the state's superintendent of public instruction for failing to more forcefully advocate for schools and educational funding.

During a round table with reporters on Friday, Democratic leaders said the state's schools chief, Elsie Arntzen, as "missing in action." They charged that Arntzen has declined to weigh in on legislation focused on school funding and policy.

A spokesman for Arntzen took issue with how Democrats are portraying the superintendent. He said Arntzen has opposed measures that would cut educational funding.

Arntzen's allies in the legislature say the superintendent has been mindful of the state's budgetary challenges. Faced with a shortfall, lawmakers are looking to cut a vast array of services and programs. As a result, school funding could be cut by nearly $7 million.


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

Saturday, February 18th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
AP-MT--1st Right Now/935
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 1:20 a.m. MST
MONTANA BUDGET-FOSTER CARE

Panel OKs increase in foster care funding, with a catch

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A budget panel has approved a $6 million increase over the next two years for Montana to deal with the growing number of children in foster care.

But the $16 million approved Friday by the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services comes with caveats.

It would be a one-time only appropriation. Republicans leading the panel say they want to see the department come up with a strategy by 2019 to address the problem.

Rep. Marilyn Ryan of Missoula and Sen. Mary Caferro of Helena, both Democrats, voted against the restriction. Ryan says the department needs funding stability to handle the crisis in foster care.

There are more than 3,400 children in the state's foster care system, which is a record.

The subcommittee's vote is only the first step in the session's lengthy budget negotiation process.

EDUCATION FUNDING

Democrats slam state schools chief as "missing in action"

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Legislative Democrats are criticizing the state's superintendent of public instruction for failing to more forcefully advocate for schools and educational funding.

During a round table with reporters on Friday, Democratic leaders said the state's schools chief, Elsie Arntzen, as "missing in action." They charged that Arntzen has declined to weigh in on legislation focused on school funding and policy.

A spokesman for Arntzen took issue with how Democrats are portraying the superintendent. He said Arntzen has opposed measures that would cut educational funding.

Arntzen's allies in the legislature say the superintendent has been mindful of the state's budgetary challenges. Faced with a shortfall, lawmakers are looking to cut a vast array of services and programs. As a result, school funding could be cut by nearly $7 million.

METH IN MONTANA

Montana lawmakers discussing meth problem

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Lawmakers and government officials plan to discuss the impacts of methamphetamine use and possible solutions during a weekend meeting at the state Capitol.

The Montana Meth Summit is set for Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Old Supreme Court. The Public is welcome to attend.

Republican Sen. Eric Moore of Miles City and Democratic Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula say they organized the meeting to call attention to the problem and to seek information that might help guide public policy.

The House has passed a resolution calling for an interim legislative study on meth use due to an increase in child abuse and neglect cases and other crimes involving use of the highly addictive drug. House Joint Resolution 6 will next be considered by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee.

POLITICAL PRACTICES COMMISSIONER

Republicans seek to bar Motl from political practices work

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's commissioner of political practices, Jonathan Motl, is again under scrutiny from legislative Republicans as they seek to bar him from working for the new commissioner after he leaves office.

The proposal before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday is another parting shot at Motl. Some Republicans accuse him of using the nonpartisan office to go after Republicans.

The commissioner enforces Montana's campaign, ethics and lobbying laws.

The bill by Republican Rep. Greg Hertz of Polson would prohibit any former commissioner from working in the commissioner's office for at least six years after leaving office.

Motl's term ends as soon as a successor is confirmed.

The Commissioner of Political Practices has been a frequent target of Republicans. Earlier this week, the House voted to dismantle the commissioner's office.

REPUBLICANS-TOWN HALLS-DAINES

Daines fields questions during tele-town hall

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Sen. Steve Daines fielded questions about his actions during recent Senate confirmation hearings as well as plans to replace the Affordable Care Act during a tele-town hall.

Daines told callers he silenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts during debate on Sen. Jeff Sessions' nomination as attorney general because she was impugning Sessions in violation of rules meant to keep Senate debate civil.

He said he voted for Betsy DeVos as education secretary because she supports school choice and public education and he said thoughtful discussions were taking place regarding a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

Daines said he decided to answer questions via telephone rather than in face-to-face discussions so more people could participate.

Republican lawmakers around the country have faced some hostile crowds at recent town halls.

ARLEE HOMICIDE-SENTENCE

Man gets 40 years in prison for death of nephew in Arlee

(Information from: KERR-AM, http://www.750kerr.com/)

POLSON, Mont. (AP) — A former Montana man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the beating death of his 18-year-old nephew in Arlee.

KERR-AM reports District Judge James Manley sentenced 24-year-old Stephen Seese on Wednesday in Polson. Seese pleaded guilty to accountability to negligent homicide in the February 2016 death of Richard Warner. He must serve 10 years before being eligible for parole.

Warner had been living in Arlee with Seese's family, including two young children, when he was killed. The family stayed in the trailer until May with Warner's body in the shower covered with clothing and furniture. Warner's body was discovered in June 2016.

Seese and his wife blamed each other for beating Warner with a hammer. Kassandra Seese pleaded guilty to the same charge and received a five-year commitment to the Department of Corrections.

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This story has been corrected to show the death happened in February 2016 and the victim's body was found in June 2016.

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

Friday, February 17th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MST
EDUCATION FUNDING

Panel votes to cut $23M from Montana higher education budget

(Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legislative panel is recommending a $23 million cut in Montana's higher education budget over the next two years.

Thursday's vote by the Joint Subcommittee on Education is the first step in finalizing the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education's 2018-2019 budget. The House Appropriations Committee will incorporate the work of various subcommittees into a draft of the overall budget bill.

OCHE deputy commissioner Tyler Trevor says if the cuts stand, it could mean a 20 percent tuition hike to make up the difference. The Independent Record reports that would cost in-state college students about $1,000 extra a year.

The Republican-led Legislature is trying to fix a budget shortfall by cutting spending across state government. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed more modest cuts, combined with tax increase and one-time fund transfers.

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AIDS ORGANIZATION

Montana AIDS organization closing down

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana organization dedicated to helping AIDS patients for nearly 30 years is closing its doors.

The Billings Gazette reports that the Yellowstone AIDS Project announced Wednesday it will dissolve by Feb. 27.

A board member for the organization, Julie Burton, says the move was in response to significant improvements in HIV/AIDS treatment, duplication of services and changing needs of clients.

The organization was formed in 1990 by the merger of the Billings AIDS Support Network and the Billings AIDS Task Force.

The Yellowstone AIDS Project had partnerships with Planned Parenthood Montana, the state health department and other agencies.

The organization says it has provided support services to more than 160 people.

It plans to work with other community groups to transition grant funds and programs for current clients.

___

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Legislative panel rejects special education funding increase

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legislative committee has voted down an increase in special education funding that had already won a floor vote in the Montana House.

The measure by Democratic Rep. Kathy Kelker of Billings would cost $6 million over the next two years. The increase would cover the cost of inflation and raise reimbursements for the cooperatives that serve more than a third of special education students in Montana.

The bill was recommended by an interim committee that studied the equity and adequacy of school funding. It passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee and was endorsed without debate by the House Wednesday on a 63-37 vote.

Instead of going to a final vote on the House floor, the bill was re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

The committee voted 12-10 against the bill Thursday without any discussion.

FEDERAL REGULATIONS

Montana Senate OKs constitutional amendment on regulations

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate is calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to overturn federal regulations.

The resolution by Republican Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip would require either the U.S. House or Senate to vote on a proposed federal regulation if a quarter of the members of either chamber opposes it.

Ankney says the idea is to rein in the thousands of federal regulations that are passed each year.

Democratic Sen. Cynthia Wolken of Missoula says giving a small number of lawmakers the power to force a vote on every regulation would only add to the gridlock in Congress.

The Senate approved the resolution 33-16 on Thursday.

If the House approves it, copies of the resolution will be sent to President Donald Trump, each member of Congress and legislative leaders in every state.

STATE JUDGES

House endorses new judges for Missoula, Yellowstone counties

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House has given initial approval to a measure that would increase the number of judges in Yellowstone and Missoula counties.

The House voted 99-1 Thursday to give Yellowstone County two new district judges and Missoula County one. The bill must pass a final vote before it goes to the Senate.

Republican Rep. Jeff Essmann of Billings says the aim is to ease the case backlog in those counties.

Last year, a special commission rejected a proposal to re-draw its 22 districts to more evenly distribute the work of 46 judges.

Instead, Essmann introduced his bill that originally would have added five new judges. That number was reduced to three.

The bill is contingent on lawmakers providing funding for the judges, their assistants and operating expenses.

DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER

Lawmakers propose delaying closure of developmental center

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Two Montana lawmakers are sponsoring bills aimed at delaying the closure of a residential facility for people with developmental disabilities who have been determined by a court to pose a risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

The House Human Services Committee heard a bill Wednesday that would keep the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder open for another two years and maintain a 12-bed intensive behavioral center for clients who need to be stabilized before being placed in group homes.

Another bill seeking to delay the closure would direct the state to seek a change in Medicaid reimbursements for services provided to those with developmental disabilities.

Lawmakers voted in 2015 to close the center and move its then-53 residents to community-based settings by June 2017. The center currently has 25 residents, including 12 in a locked facility.


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