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Associated Press Montana News

Friday, April 19th 2019


The Latest: Legislature passes Medicaid expansion bill

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Legislature has passed a bill to continue a program that provides health care for about 96,000 low-income residents for another six years.

The House passed the Medicaid expansion bill 61-35 Thursday.

It now goes to Gov. Steve Bullock, who has made the program a priority. Supporters touted its positive effect on the state's economy and the health of residents.

The bill by Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey adds work requirements, strengthens an asset test, increases premiums for people who remain on the program for more than two years, and requires Hutterite colonies to pay the state's share of coverage for their members.

It also adds a tax on hospitals to leverage more federal funding and sets a June 2025 expiration date.


Montana governor's 3 vetoes include Social Security tax bill

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

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's governor has vetoed three bills including an increase in Social Security exemptions.

The Independent Record reports that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the bills Thursday before the state Legislature's Easter break.

Bullock says in his veto letter that the Social Security bill would be an immediate $3 million hit to the current fiscal year budget and cause a $36 million reduction in state funding over the next budget cycle.

Republican Sen. David Howard's bill would have nearly doubled Social Security exemptions for some filers.

Montana residents can now exempt $25,000 of their Social Security income, which would have increased to $30,000 under the bill. The exemption would have risen from $32,000 to $60,000 for individuals filing joint returns and from $16,000 to $30,000 for married people filing separately.



Man charged with murder in case of missing Montana woman

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Police have arrested a man on a charge of deliberate homicide stemming from the disappearance of a woman in southern Montana.

The Billings Gazette reports 53-year-old Gregory Green, of Henderson, Nevada, was arrested Wednesday, about seven months after 49-year-old Laura Johnson went missing.

Johnson's family reported her missing Sept. 24 after not hearing from her for three weeks.

Investigators believe Green killed Johnson and hid her body in a rural area outside Billings. Detectives discovered the carpeting in one of the bedrooms in Johnson's home had been replaced, and her blood was found on the door of Green's pickup.

Police are asking landowners in several communities around Billings for help finding Johnson's body.

It's unclear if Green has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.



Appeals court weighs Trump permit for Keystone XL pipeline

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Justice Department attorneys want an appeals court to let construction proceed on the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. But opponents say President Donald Trump is trying to skirt the law by issuing a new permit for the project.

The Trump administration has asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court ruling that blocked construction of the $8 billion pipeline.

Government attorneys say the November ruling that more environmental study was needed is now meaningless. That's because Trump issued a new permit to developer TransCanada in March.

In a legal filing late Wednesday, environmental groups asked the appeals court to keep construction blocked.

Legal experts say the case is another test of Trump's use of presidential power to get his way.


Montana approves expansion of coal mine serving Colstrip

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — State regulators have given final approval to a 70-million ton expansion of a southeastern Montana coal mine that provides fuel to the Colstrip power plant.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday's approval of the 10-square-mile expansion would allow the Rosebud mine to stay open until the late 2030s.

Officials say mining will not be allowed within a small portion of the expansion area to prevent damage to area water supplies.

Separate approval is still needed from the U.S. Department of Interior.

Mine owner Westmoreland Coal Co., which is based in Englewood, Colorado, recently emerged from bankruptcy after selling off some of its assets.

Colstrip is one of the largest coal-burning plants in the Western U.S.


Missoula foster parents plead not guilty to child abuse

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A Missoula couple have pleaded not guilty in a Montana court to criminal child endangerment and other charges in their treatment of foster children.

The Missoulian reports Angela and Malcolm Cobler entered their pleas Thursday. Each face nine charges, including criminal child endangerment, endangering the welfare of children and several counts of assault on a minor. Malcolm Cobler is also charged with tampering with evidence.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Lacey Lincoln said prosecutors plan separate trials for the two.

Angela Cobler's trial was tentatively set for Sept. 9, and Malcolm Cobler's trial was scheduled for Aug. 12.

Angela Cobler once operated a daycare that closed in 2012. She and her husband adopted an 11-year-old girl and her older brother in 2013. The children were removed from the home last July.

Associated Press Montana News

Tuesday, April 16th 2019


Montana Senate endorses Medicaid expansion bill

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate has endorsed by a narrow margin a bill to continue the state's Medicaid expansion program a day before a deadline to send the bill to the House.

Senators voted 26-24 Monday for the bill, which must pass a final vote on Tuesday.

A handful of Republican Medicaid expansion co-sponsors had held up the Senate vote on the bill while awaiting the fate of another bill to allow NorthWestern Energy to purchase an additional share of a coal-fired power plant in Colstrip and additional capacity on a high-voltage power line.

The power plant bill was endorsed 62-38 in the House Monday and also must pass a final vote Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas urged Senators to support other bills that help provide jobs in mining, utilities and agriculture.


The Latest: Montana to appeal mine permit revocation

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials plan to challenge a court ruling that struck down a water use permit for a silver and copper mine that's proposed beneath a wilderness area.

Judge Kathy Seeley said that state officials didn't adequately consider potential damage to nearby streams from Hecla Mining Co.'s Rock Creek Mine.

Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokesman John Grassy said Monday the agency will appeal.

Environmental groups represented by Earthjustice sued after the state issued the water permit in early 2018. They say streams within the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness are so ecologically valuable that they deserve the greatest protections available under law.

Hecla spokeman Luke Russell says Seeley's April 9 ruling would not impact planned exploratory work at the mine site, located northeast of Noxon.



Inspectors find invasive mussels on boat in western Montana

(Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com)

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials in western Montana have intercepted a boat carrying invasive mussels.

The Montana Standard in Butte reports staff at the Anaconda watercraft inspection station found dead and dried-up mussels on the transom and trim tabs of the boat Monday. The boat, which was being taken from the Great Lakes area to Bellingham, Washington, was decontaminated before it was released.

It was the first boat carrying invasive mussels that watercraft inspectors stopped this year.

Boat owners are required to stop at all open watercraft inspection stations.



House endorses bill allowing coal-fired plant purchase

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state House has endorsed a bill that would allow NorthWestern Energy to purchase an additional portion of a coal-fired power plant and of a high-voltage power line in southeastern Montana.

The House voted 62-38 in favor of the bill on Monday. It needs to pass a final vote before a Tuesday deadline to return it to the Senate with amendments.

Those amendments stripped language that said NorthWestern could spend up to $75 million on upgrades to the new portion of the Colstrip power plant and include the costs in its rates without Public Service Commission approval.

Supporters of the Colstrip bill forced a delay on a Medicaid expansion bill, which is now scheduled to be heard in the Senate on Monday afternoon.


Lead kills 1st Yellowstone golden eagle fitted with tracker

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Officials say the first golden eagle in Yellowstone National Park to be fitted with a tracking device has died of lead poisoning.

Golden eagles often scavenge during the fall and winter. Scientists suspect the adult female may have eaten carrion containing lead bullet fragments.

Some advocacy groups have called for hunters to use bullets made of copper to help prevent such deaths.

Eagle scientist Todd Katzner with the U.S. Geological Survey called the death "gut wrenching."

He says researchers were nonetheless able to gather valuable information about the eagle and its movements before it died.

Golden eagles are one of North America's largest birds, with a wingspan that can top 7 feet (2.1 meters).


Developer plans 105-room hotel in downtown Missoula

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A developer is planning to build a nearly $21 million hotel with 105 guest rooms in downtown Missoula.

The Missoulian reported Monday that developer Andy Holloran and a group of investors plan to ask the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for about $1.9 million in tax increment financing for the project.

They aim to tear down a building currently at the downtown site, salvage its materials for reuse, relocate utilities and improve the public right of way.

The developer plans to open the six-story AC by Marriott hotel in late 2020. The hotel will feature a rooftop terrace and bar as well as basement space for a restaurant.

Agency officials say the hotel is expected to create about 33 full-time jobs.

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