Senate endorses campaign finance reform bill
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana senators have endorsed a measure that would require more disclosure surrounding campaign donations.
The Senate endorsed the measure 28-22 on second-reading Thursday. It would need to pass a third reading before going to the House.
Republican Sen. Duane Ankney’s Senate Bill 289, which is backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, would require corporations to disclose political contributions favoring or opposing candidates and ballot issues in Montana.
The proposal also would require that the attribution “paid for by” be included on political ads in the state.
Opponents say definitions and provisions in the proposal are overly broad.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 freed corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want in political elections.
SB 289 is one of four campaign-finance measures backed this session by Ankney and Bullock.
Governor’s veto likely for bill lowering income taxes
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s Democratic governor is likely to veto an advancing Republican plan to cut income taxes.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is one vote away from sending House Bill 166, amended in the Senate earlier this week, to the governor’s office.
Republican Rep. Keith Regier’s proposal would cut all income tax brackets by 0.2 percent, up from 0.1 percent in its original form.
A spokesman for Gov. Steve Bullock says the plan is fiscally irresponsible and that the governor will not support such legislation.
Democratic lawmakers say a tax cut ahead of a revenue projection is premature and a political attempt to vilify the governor.
Regier has argued that larger income tax cuts were successful in 2003. Those cuts came with sales tax increases, which are not included in Regier’s bill.
Bill easing penalty for guns at school dies in House
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana representatives have twice voted down a proposal to give school boards more discretion on the expulsion of students found with guns at school.
Representatives failed Rep. Carl Glimm’s House Bill 320 by 50-50 votes on Tuesday and again Thursday.
The bill would have tweaked the state’s implementation of the federal Guns-Free Schools Act, which requires school boards to expel any student who brings a gun to school.
Young hunters would have been protected under the proposal, like the 16-year-old Columbia Falls student who was immediately suspended after forgetting her hunting rifle in her trunk in 2010.
Republican Reps. David Moore and Clayton Fiscus, formerly against the bill, voted in favor of it the second time around. Republican Reps. Bruce Meyers and Kenneth Holmlund, changed their earlier “yes” votes to “no.”
Ginnity named director of VA Montana Health Care
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — John Ginnity, who served as acting director of VA Montana Health Care for eight months, has been named the permanent director.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald told him about the appointment Thursday.
The announcement came three days after Ginnity was removed as acting director because he had exceeded the federal time limit for holding an “acting” position.
Before being named acting director, Ginnity served as the health care system’s associate director.
Tester says the main priority is to reopen the acute mental health care wing of the psychiatric hospital at Fort Harrison. The VA announced a temporary closure of the eight-bed wing on Feb. 10 due to lack of staffing.
Ginnity says two mental health providers retired and a third left for another job.
Supreme Court: Smoking shelters violate clean indoor air act
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling that allowed Great Falls casino owners to circumvent the Clean Indoor Air Act by building a separate shack with permanent vents for its smoking customers.
Tuesday’s ruling came in the Cascade City-County Board of Health’s appeal of District Judge Greg Pinski’s decision. In November 2013, Pinski found the wording of several laws coupled with the health board’s acknowledgement that the shelters were “partially open to the outside air,” negated the board’s argument that the shelters were “places of work” where smoking is disallowed under the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act.
The Supreme Court found that the board was wrong to say the shelters were partially open and also found that they were places of work, thus subjecting them to the no-smoking law.
Butte woman pleads guilty in drug conspiracy
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A 29-year-old woman who fled the Anaconda hospital last summer after she and her newborn tested positive for methamphetamine has pleaded guilty to federal drug charges in a case investigators said brought the drug from Los Angeles for distribution in Great Falls, Havre and Butte.
The Great Falls Tribune reports Michelle Renee Yallup pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute, conspiracy involving a firearm and drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The meth conspiracy charge calls for a 10-year minimum prison sentence.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss five other charges when District Judge Brian Morris sentences Yallup on May 28.
Prosecutors alleged Yallup was one of 20 people involved the conspiracy that operated between the winter of 2013 and September 2014.
Evergreen man denies charges in child’s death
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A 21-year-old Evergreen man has pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide in the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son.
Brandon Lee Walter Newberry entered his plea Thursday in District Court. Trial is set for April 27.
Charging documents say Forrest Groshelle died Feb. 17 of a laceration of the small intestine after being hit multiple times in the stomach.
The boy’s mother told deputies that Newberry had been watching Forrest while she worked. She said he had been vomiting since Feb. 12.
On Monday, District Judge Ted Lympus granted a defense request for a gag order preventing prosecutors and law enforcement officers from talking about the case.
On Wednesday, Flathead County authorities said the tires on a Jeep belonging to Newberry had been slashed and the vehicle spray-painted.
Victim found after Hardin hotel fire identified
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Big Horn County officials have released the name of a 26-year-old Busby woman who was found dead after a fire was reported in her Hardin hotel room.
Deputy Coroner Robbie Seykora tells The Billings Gazette that Allison Highwolf’s body was found at about midnight Monday.
Seykora says an autopsy was being conducted and the results were not immediately available. The State Fire Marshal and the sheriff’s office are still investigating the cause of the fire.
Columbia Falls woman pleads guilty to vehicular assault
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A Columbia Falls woman has pleaded guilty to hitting a pedestrian while driving drunk.
The Flathead Beacon reports Susan Pajnich pleaded guilty Thursday to felony negligent vehicular assault.
Prosecutors say Pajnich was driving a rental truck in Columbia Falls on Aug. 23 when she hit a woman who had stopped in the road to help an injured cat. The victim suffered a serious head injury.
Pajnich left the scene, but police found her at her residence. Court records say Pajnich’s blood-alcohol level was 0.28, more than three times the limit at which a person is considered legally intoxicated.
Prosecutors said they would ask that Pajnich be committed to the Department of Corrections for 10 years with seven suspended when she is sentenced on May 7. The defense plans to ask for a probationary sentence.