Associated Press Montana News Summary
Saturday, November 17th 2012

Montana's Decker coal mine to lay off 75 workers

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) Managers of Montana's Decker Coal Mine say up to 75 employees will be laid off from the mine near the Wyoming border in mid-January.

A spokesman for mine operator Ambre Energy North America on Friday attributed the layoffs to "ongoing expense management activities," but offered no details.

There are about 160 workers at the mine in the Powder River Basin, which has the country's most productive coal fields.

It's co-owned by KCP, Inc. and Western Minerals, LLC, a subsidiary of Cloud Peak Energy.

Ambre spokesman Brian Gard says the layoffs are unrelated to a legal dispute between the owners over whether to expand production.

Federal mining records show coal production at Decker has dropped sharply, from 7 million tons in 2006 to 3 million tons last year.


Suspect in Cody abduction waives prelim hearing

CODY, Wyo. (AP) A Montana man charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl from Cody, Wyo., has waived a preliminary hearing.

Jesse P. Speer is being held on a $2 million bond on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and using a gun in the commission of a felony. He hasn't entered a plea.

Speer had been scheduled for a preliminary hearing Monday before Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters in Cody. Park County Attorney Bryan A. Skoric says that Speer's waiving the preliminary hearing means Speer's case goes straight to district court.

Speer was arrested in Montana almost a week after the girl was abducted in Cody. She was driven out of town, sexually assaulted and then released. Hunters found the girl and took her to safety.


Board won't change assisted-suicide policy

HELENA, Mont. (AP) The Montana Board of Medical Examiners has rejected a request to strike its policy on physician-assisted suicide that opponents criticize as too permissive.

The board this year tried to provide some guidance to doctors on the issue that remains unclear in law. The board says it will review complaints on their merits if any are filed against a doctor for providing "aid-in-dying."

Montanans Against Assisted Suicide says it wants the board to revoke that policy, saying it appears to condone a procedure they argue is illegal. The board rejected the request Friday, potentially paving the way for opponents to sue.

The Montana Supreme Court in 2009 declared nothing in state law or precedent makes the procedure illegal. The Legislature has been unable to provide any further clarity.


Schweitzer advises new AG not to be too partisan

HELENA, Mont. (AP) Gov. Brian Schweitzer is advising the first Republican in 20 years to be elected attorney general not be too partisan.

Attorney General-elect Tim Fox asked for the Friday meeting with the Democratic governor. He has been gathering advice from current and past officeholders as he prepares to take his first statewide office.

Schweitzer told Fox to not listen too much to partisans in his party who may want him to be a Republican attack dog.

The governor says he has learned "the best political friends give the worst political advice."

Fox is the only Republican who won a state Land Board seat in last week's election.

Fox says he hopes to be a statesman who serves on the board not as a Republican, but as "one of five Montanans."


Blue Cross asks regulators to approve merger

HELENA, Mont. (AP) Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana has formally asked for approval of its proposed merger with the nation's fourth-largest health insurer.

The company said in a release Friday that it filed paperwork with the Montana commissioner of securities and insurance and the attorney general on the alliance with Health Care Service Corp.

The two companies announced the deal in September.

Blue Cross Blue Shield says HSCS will pay $18 million for some Blue Cross assets and will assume some of its liabilities.

Other Blue Cross assets worth more than $100 million will go to a new charitable health foundation.

HCSC has 13 million members in Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Blue Cross is Montana's largest insurer with 272,000 members


14 troops to return from Afghanistan

HELENA, Mont. (AP) The Montana National Guard says 14 Malta-based troops will be returning from Afghanistan in time for Thanksgiving.

Maj. Tim Crowe says in a statement the soldiers from the 484th Military Police Company are scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

Crowe says the soldiers have supported the Afghanistan National Police training mission since June. The rest of the company is expected to return in spring 2013.

The public is invited to welcome the troops when they arrive at Billings International Airport Tuesday at 12:42 p.m.

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