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Wednesday, November 25th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

55 GOP state lawmakers urge Bullock to block Syrian refugees

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Just over one-third of Montana's legislators are asking Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to use all legal means to block or resist the placement of Syrian refugees in Montana.

The 55 Republicans say they are sympathetic to those impacted by the conflict in Syria, but they want to see federal refugee admission guidelines and policies strengthened.

A letter from lawmakers notes that more than 30 governors have taken steps to protect their states and they ask Bullock to direct state agencies to resist efforts to place Syrian refugees in Montana until Congressional efforts to improve the refugee admission process are complete.

Bullock has said he would deny refugees requesting settlement if there were any safety concerns, but that terrorists wouldn't intimidate the state into abandoning its values.

No Syrian refugees have asked to be settled in Montana.


19 people in 7 states ill in E. coli outbreak tied to Costco

SEATTLE (AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 19 people in seven states have contracted E. coli in an outbreak linked to Costco chicken salad.

The strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can be life-threatening. No deaths have been reported, but the CDC says five people have been hospitalized and two have developed a type of kidney failure.

The CDC and state health officials are investigating. They don't know what ingredient in the rotisserie chicken salad made and sold in Costco Wholesale stores is the likely source of the outbreak.

Health officials advise those who bought chicken salad at any U.S. Costco store on or before Friday to throw it away, even if no one has gotten sick.

People have fallen ill in California, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Utah, Virginia and Washington.


Deadline set for death penalty decision in Montana killings

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge has given prosecutors until July 1 to decide if they will seek the death penalty for an 18-year-old Wyoming man charged with a double murder on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation.

Tuesday's ruling came after defense attorneys said they needed more time to gather evidence for why the death penalty should not be sought.

Jesus Deniz Mendoza is charged with fatally shooting Jason and Tana Shane and wounding their daughter. The family had stopped to help Mendoza along a rural roadway near Pryor in July.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters gave the defense team until early May to make any arguments against the death penalty to prosecutors.

Federal Defender David Merchant says interviews need to be conducted with family members of Mendoza who live in Mexico.


Bail hearing set for inmate whose conviction was overturned

(Information in the following story is from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A bail hearing is scheduled next month for a Montana State Prison inmate whose conviction and life sentence for deliberate homicide were overturned after a judge ruled evidence withheld from the defense could have led to a different outcome.

District Judge James Wheelis ordered a new trial for Richard Raugust in the July 1997 shooting death of his best friend Joe Tash in northwestern Montana.

The Flathead Beacon reports Wheelis has scheduled a Dec. 4 hearing to decide of Raugust can be released from prison on bond pending a new trial.

After hearing arguments on the case, Wheelis found that prosecutors withheld from Raugust's defense attorneys information that supported his alibi that he had stayed in Trout Creek on the night of the killing and was not at the camper trailer where Tash was shot.


Political Practices adopts new campaign finance rules

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Commissioner of Political Practices has adopted new campaign finance rules that he says will improve the transparency and reporting of money spent to influence elections in Montana.

Commissioner Jonathan Motl filed the rules with the Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday. He says they will be in effect during the 2016 campaign season.

The new rules require candidates and political committees to file their reports electronically, which will make them immediately available online in a searchable form. The rules require candidates to file campaign finance reports at both 35 days and 12 days before elections. The 35-day reporting requirement is new.

The rules also require third party groups to report spending if their communication mentions a candidate or uses an image of them within 90 days of an election.


Judge puts stop to roll-your-own cigarettes at Billings shop

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A judge has ordered a Billings tobacco shop to stop operating its machines that allow customers to roll their own cigarettes.

The Billings Gazette reports the state's request for a preliminary injunction against B&B Smokes, which operates Smokes 4 Less, was approved Thursday.

The 8-month-old shop is prohibited from letting customers use its four machines to make their own cigarettes.

Some shops that allow customers to roll their own cigarettes at a fraction of the cost they would pay for name-brand cigarettes do so to avoid federal manufacturing taxes.

Smokes 4 Less co-owner Casey Brock says the business shouldn't qualify as a manufacturer because customers operate the machines themselves.

Under Montana law, a manufacturer is "any person who fabricates tobacco products from raw materials for the purpose of resale."


Woman convicted of deliberate homicide out on parole

(Information in the following story is from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — An Evergreen woman convicted of deliberate homicide in a 2009 crash that killed a pregnant woman and the woman's teenage son has been released on parole.

The Flathead Beacon reports that state records show 22-year-old Justine Winter was released Nov. 20 after completing a pre-release program in Billings.

Winter, who was 16 at the time, had been driving on U.S. Highway 93 near Kalispell when she crashed head-on into 35-year-old Erin Thompson and her son, 13-year-old Caden Odell. Investigators say Winter struck the pregnant woman's vehicle at 85 mph after texting her boyfriend that she planned to kill herself.

Winter was found guilty of deliberate homicide in 2011. She was sentenced to two concurrent 30-year sentences with 30 years suspended.

The state approved Winter's request for parole in September.


Fishtail man pleads guilty in meth conspiracy

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 61-year-old south-central Montana man has pleaded guilty to federal charges after prosecutors say he distributed about 178 pounds of methamphetamine.

The Billings Gazette reports Merrill Clark Gardner of Fishtail pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to possess meth for distribution. Gardner faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and he consented to the forfeiture of his residence and more than $100,000 in cash and gold and silver coins.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters denied Gardner's request that he be released pending his March 3 sentencing.

Court records say co-defendant Brett Wade Clouse of Absarokee told investigators he made seven trips to Tucson, Arizona between January 2013 and June 2015 and brought back about 178 pounds of the drug to Gardner. He has pleaded not guilty to four felony counts.

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

Tuesday, November 24th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

US to cancel lease on land sacred to Blackfoot Indian tribes

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials say they will cancel a long-suspended oil and gas drilling lease near Glacier National Park that's on land considered sacred to the Blackfoot tribes of the U.S. and Canada.

U.S. Department of Interior attorneys disclosed the agency's plans in court documents filed Monday.

The attorneys say the lease was improperly issued, in part because a 1981 environmental study did not consider the effects of drilling on the tribes' religious values.

The lease is in northwestern Montana's Badger Two-Medicine area, which is the site of the creation story for the tribes.

Lease owner Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had sued the government in 2013 to force a decision after the dispute dragged on for decades.

It could be canceled as early as next month.


Winter storm forecast for Montana, Wyoming

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A storm moving into Montana and Wyoming is expected to bring snow and strong winds, creating hazardous travel conditions in the days before Thanksgiving.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning from 11 a.m. Tuesday through 11 p.m. Wednesday for western Montana and into the central part of the state.

Meteorologist Jonathan Suk of Great Falls says 3 to 6 inches of snow will fall at lower elevations. Gusty winds will reduce visibility to less than a mile and create hazardous wind chill temperatures.

The service says the storm's peak will hit central Wyoming between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Gusting wind and snow could create treacherous driving along Interstate 80.

The weather service recommends emergency travel only in the areas most affected by the storm.


Media groups say Montana case could have national influence

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Four media organizations say a public-records lawsuit pending before the Montana Supreme Court could have national consequences.

The high court on Friday allowed the Student Press Law Center, Montana Newspaper Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society of Professional Journalists to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

They will file their argument in an appeal of a judge's order for the state to release records to author Jon Krakauer about a University of Montana quarterback who was accused of raping another student in 2012.

State attorneys say federal law prevents Montana from releasing the records, and the state could lose education funding.

The organizations argue that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 ruling against compelling states to expand Medicaid requires a re-examination of laws that threaten to cut funding if federal standards aren't upheld.


Montana State football coach Rob Ash fired

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Montana State football coach Rob Ash has been fired after the team went 5-6 this season, including just 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference.

Athletic director Peter Fields said Monday that the team didn't meet expectations.

The Bobcats shared league titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and advanced to the FCS playoffs in those three years and in 2014. However, the team has struggled late during the past three seasons.

Ash was 70-38 over nine seasons at Montana State, but only 2-7 against rival Montana, including a 54-35 loss Saturday.

Ash came to Montana State from Drake in June 2007. He was charged with improving the team's academic and off-the-field reputation.

Fields said the school will begin a national search for a new coach immediately.


Woman saved from modular home fire in Mineral County

ALBERTON, Mont. (AP) — An Alberton woman was saved from a modular home fire when a passing driver saw the blaze, jumped a fence and brought her outside.

Frenchtown Rural Fire spokesman Mel Holtz says the fire was reported Sunday after a motorist on the Interstate saw the flames and called 911 before going inside to find the victim.

The victim is described as a woman in her 40s or 50s. She was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Holtz says the fire appeared to be suspicious, prompting an investigation by the Mineral County Sheriff's Office.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.


Montana hosts South Dakota State in FCS playoffs

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana football team, which struggled to a 3-3 record in mid-October, finished its regular season with a three-game winning streak and earned a spot in the FCS playoffs.

The 16th-ranked Grizzlies (7-4) will play host to No. 10 South Dakota State (8-3) Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner will play at four-time defending champion and second-ranked North Dakota State (9-2) on Dec. 5.

Quarterback Brady Gustafson missed six games with an injury, but returned to help Montana beat Eastern Washington 57-16 and Montana State 54-35.

South Dakota State opened the season with a 41-38 win over Kansas, beat Big Sky Conference champion Southern Utah 55-10 and lost 28-7 to North Dakota State — a team Montana beat 38-35 in the season opener.

Montana has a 7-0 record against South Dakota State, including a 61-48 win in the 2009 playoffs. Montana had trailed 48-21 with 5:40 left in the third quarter before running off 40 straight points.

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

Monday, November 23rd 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Rush for gay couples to marry in Montana declines

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

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — The initial rush for gay couples to marry in Montana has declined after 436 couples married during the first year since the state's marriage ban ended.

The rush began after U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled Montana's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between a man and a woman violated the U.S. Constitution.

According to the Great Falls Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/qgseq65 ), state Attorney General Tim Fox said he would appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but put his appeal on hold.

Several same sex couples say the rulings have made their lives easier, helping them deal with issues involving children and writing up wills.


Voter initiatives seek higher use of renewable electricity

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A retired clergyman and an attorney want voters to pass a law requiring power companies to purchase and sell more renewable energy.

Former minister John Soderberg and Russ Doty have submitted a ballot measure that would require investor-owned utilities in Montana to gradually increase the amount of renewable electricity they purchase, reaching a requirement of 80 percent by 2050.

They also propose taxing electricity production to replace deposits that would be lost to the Coal Tax Trust Fund and add a temporary tax to ensure displaced fossil fuel workers' pensions are fully funded.

If the language is approved, organizers would need the signatures of about 25,000 registered voters to put the issues on the November 2016 ballot.


Proposed livestock inspection fee has dairy farmers worried

(Information in the following story is from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com)

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A proposed inspection fee increase has dairy farmers and processors worried.

Under current Montana Department of Livestock rules, farms that produce raw milk are charged about 15 cents per 100 pounds of milk to pay for health and safety inspections.

A proposed increase would nearly double the charge to more than 27 cents and raise the minimum fee for producers to $225 per month.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle says (http://tinyurl.com/o8x5zu4 ) officials are blaming the increase on the rising cost of inspections.

The fee increase was approved by the Board of Livestock and could go into effect Jan. 1.


Amid move to end Montana cleanup, some asbestos left behind

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials say their final analysis of a Montana community wracked by deadly asbestos contamination shows a costly and much-criticized cleanup is working — even though about 700 properties have yet to be investigated.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $540 million removing asbestos in and around the town of Libby.

Health workers say as many as 400 people have died and almost 3,000 have been sickened from exposure. The material was left behind from a W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine.

After a lengthy review of the health risks, the EPA said Friday that people could continue to live in Libby and neighboring Troy without excessive exposure.

Some worried residents point out that the agency plans to leave asbestos in the walls of houses, underground and elsewhere.


Montana Republican Party names new executive director

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Republican Party has named as its new executive director a man who has worked on election campaigns in four other states.

Party officials said in a statement that Timothy Gould will begin his duties on Dec. 1.

Party Chairman Jeff Essmann says he believes Gould's experience will be an asset in Montana's 2016 elections.

Gould has worked on local, gubernatorial, congressional and presidential campaigns in Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey.

He will replace Chris Shipp, who resigned on Sept. 30.

The GOP in 2016 will be trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, re-elect Attorney General Tim Fox, win three open statewide offices and hold on to its majority in the Legislature.


Nevada releases Common Core test results; all weren't tested

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada was confident enough in the partial student results from its Common Core-aligned state test that it released them Wednesday, even though 7 of 10 students weren't tested because of computer glitches.

But Montana says it won't decide what to do with its test results until it can be sure the scores are valid.

The varying actions are part of the ongoing fallout from the meltdown last spring of the federally mandated annual testing process that is linked to funding.

And it isn't the first time states have had to deal with compromised test results from a standardized system that is supposed to allow for easy comparison across years and states.

Neither Kansas nor Wyoming released statewide numbers when they had incomplete data previously.


Yellowstone County hotel owners protecting guest registers

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Yellowstone County hotel owners are fighting an ordinance that requires them to turn over guest registers to any city employee, including police officers and parking attendants.

The Yellowstone County Lodging Association, which has about 40 hotels in its membership, says it will work with Billings City Attorney Brent Brooks to consider a new ordinance that would clarify the rules for turning over their records. The association calls the current law an invasion of privacy.

The Billings Gazette reports a local ordinance requires hotels to turn over their records or be faced with a possible crime. Officials say it was originally designed to give the city control over zoning regulations.

Police still have access if they are responding to an emergency or hear a cry for help.

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

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