GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A jury has convicted a Montana man of kidnapping a 4-year-old girl from a park and sexually assaulting her.
The Great Falls Tribune reports 21-year-old John Lieba, of Wolf Point, was convicted Tuesday of kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 3.
Authorities say Lieba abducted the girl while she was playing in a park at night in the town of Wolf Point on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. A grand jury indictment filed in June said he engaged in a sex act with the girl and assaulted her.
The girl was found by a Roosevelt County sheriff’s deputy Feb. 28, 2016, two days after she disappeared and just a few miles from where she was abducted.
Senate panel trims proposed increase to state fuel tax
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Senate committee has trimmed a proposed increase to the state’s fuel tax previously passed by the Montana House to pay for road and bridge projects.
The Senate Finance and Claims Committee on Tuesday approved raising the gas tax 4.5 cents a gallon beginning this summer and gradually increasing to 6 cents by mid-2022.
The diesel tax would go up 1.5 cents this summer and rise to 2 cents by mid-2022.
The bill passed by the House would have raised the gas tax 8 cents a gallon and diesel 7 ¼ cents.
The amended bill also includes a 3 percent fee increase on vehicle registrations and a new “Ferrari” tax on cars and recreational vehicles worth more than $150,000.
The changes, if approved, would raise $37 million its first year and $49 million by 2023 for construction projects.
Montana lawmakers act to combat invasive zebra mussels
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana lawmakers have moved forward on a pair of proposals aimed at combating the spread of zebra mussels.
The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed the creation of a council that would spearhead the battle against the invasive species. Meanwhile, the House advanced a proposal that would raise $15.5 million for the effort over two years through increased fishing license fees and a new fee on hydroelectric facilities.
Last fall, Gov. Steve Bullock declared a statewide emergency for lakes and other bodies of water after the discovery zebra mussel larvae for the first time.
If left unchecked, the mussels could pose an ecological catastrophe to the state’s mostly pristine waters. It could also mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy.
Final transfer made to $60M Cobell scholarship fund
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Interior Department officials say they have transferred to a scholarship fund the full $60 million agreed to under a government settlement with Native American landowners.
The scholarship fund is part of the $3.4 billion settlement led by the late Elouise Cobell, who sued over decades of lost and mismanaged royalties the government owed to American Indian landowners across the nation.
Interior officials said Tuesday the final transfer was made to the fund for Native American technical training and higher education.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement the program advances President Donald Trump’s commitment to tribal sovereignty and education.
The program and the settlement were finalized in 2012 under then-President Barack Obama’s administration.
The statement says $5.25 million has been awarded to nearly 1,000 students so far.
Kansas outcome a warning to GOP as Georgia contest nears
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans have pulled out a victory in Kansas in the first of four U.S. House special elections to replace GOP congressmen named to top jobs in President Donald Trump’s administration, but the next contest for a seat in Georgia could be tougher.
The margin of victory Tuesday for Republican Ron Estes in the Kansas 4th District special election slid to only seven percentage points from a 31-point margin in November, when incumbent Mike Pompeo was running before he was appointed Trump’s CIA director.
Estes narrowly lost the district’s most populous county around the city of Wichita. Trump won that county by 18 points.
The outcome was a shot across the bow of the national Republicans as the party faces an even more difficult contest on April 18 in Georgia.
Judge won’t halt Montana special election ballots for appeal
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A judge won’t delay the printing and mailing of ballots for three minor party and independent candidates who are suing to run in Montana’s special congressional election.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris on Tuesday denied the request by Thomas Breck of the Green Party and independents Steve Kelly and Doug Campbell. They had asked Morris for an injunction while their case is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The three men are suing to be added to the ballot in the May 25 election to serve the remainder of former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s term. Morris declined to add their names, but he lowered the threshold for minor party and independent candidates to qualify from 14,268 voter signatures to 400 signatures.
None of the three had gathered that many signatures by the March 6 deadline.