House panel rejects $33M infrastructure bill by Republicans
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A House panel has rejected an infrastructure bill to use bonds to fund $33 million worth of public works projects across Montana.
The House Appropriations Committee voted 13-9 against the bill on Monday. The measure had angered Democrats by removing several large building projects and led the governor’s office to warn that it might result in the state failing to pass a bonding bill this session.
That leaves a $98 million bonding bill by state Sen. Eric Moore of Miles City. Moore’s bill includes projects like $25 million to renovate Montana State University’s Romney Hall and $10 million for a new veterans’ home for Butte.
The question is whether the Republican lawmakers in the House will agree with that level of state debt for building projects, along with school, roads, bridges, sewer and water projects.
Spring weather starting to bring out bears in Montana
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Black bears and grizzly bears have started leaving their dens as spring weather has taken hold in western Montana.
The Missoulian reports Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says residents should avoid attracting bears by taking down bird feeders, not leaving out garbage and cleaning up chicken and livestock feed.
Wildlife biologists say they’ve set a trap for one bear that’s been spotted recently in Arlee but have had no luck catching the animal.
After a long winter hibernation, bears are seeking out new grass and other vegetation to get their digestive systems up and running again.
Agency officials warn residents to be on the lookout for both bears and mountain lions this spring.
They also are reminding people that it’s illegal to intentionally feed those animals in Montana.
Cost for Montana to comply with REAL ID over $2M per year
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A bill to make Montana compliant with federal driver’s license rules would cost the state more than $2 million a year for the next four years.
But if it doesn’t pass, Montana residents won’t be able to use their state-issued licenses to board airplanes starting in January.
State lawmakers have resisted complying with the 2005 federal REAL ID Act over concerns of privacy. The Legislature passed a law in 2007 forbidding the state from issuing the enhanced identification cards.
The proposal by Democratic Sen. Jill Cohenour of East Helena would give Montanans the option of choosing a license that meets the federal requirements.
Cohenour told the Senate State Administration Committee on Monday it would cost the state $2.6 million to implement in the first year, and go down after that.
Montana caregivers push for wage hike for disabled services
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — More than a dozen caregivers and advocates are pushing for raises for 3,000 people who provide direct care for some 5,800 developmentally disabled people across Montana.
Some of the Republican lawmakers who previously opposed spending increases for such services appeared ready to back them on Monday.
The bill by Republican Rep. Jon Knokey of Bozeman would increase the average starting wage from $10.15 an hour to $15 an hour by 2019.
The caregivers’ wages are set by state government through provider rates.
Knokey and the caregivers who testified Monday before the House Appropriations Committee say the low wages creates high turnover and leaves many of the caregivers in need of public assistance themselves.
Republican Rep. Rob Cook of Conrad says the $10 million cost to Montana is small compared to the state health department’s overall budget.
Bill would require schools to set suicide prevention plans
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate has passed a bill that would require local school boards to establish policies and procedures for youth suicide prevention and response.
The bill, by Republican Rep. Dennis Lenz of Billings, passed on a 48-2 vote on Monday.
It returns to the House for approval of a Senate amendment that clarifies the bill does not impose a “specific duty of care,” that could be the subject of a lawsuit. The bill passed the House 87-12 in February.
Also Monday, the Montana House narrowly endorsed a measure that sought to create a grant program for schools to implement suicide prevention plans, but had the funding stripped out of it. The bill passed 52-47 on second reading. It faces a third-reading vote before it can move to the Senate.
Weekly prison visitation days cut from 4 to 2
DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — The Montana State Prison is cutting inmate visitation from four days a week to two due to a staff shortage.
Warden Leroy Kirkegard said Monday the prison is canceling Thursday and Friday visitation, beginning April 6, to allow staff to be reassigned to higher priority security posts.
The change means all visitors, including children, can visit on Saturdays with adults only on Sundays.
Kirkegard says normal visitation days will be reinstated as soon as possible.
The state jobs website lists 25 openings for correctional officers. Prison spokeswoman Amy Barton says correctional officers are working mandatory overtime to cover shifts.
In May 2014, the prison temporarily suspended Wednesday and Thursday visitation while continuing visits Friday through Sunday. In July 2014 the prison had 65 openings for correctional officers.
Barton says Wednesday visitation was never restored.