Veterans Affairs names interim director for Montana
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials have named an interim director for the VA Montana Health Care System.
Kathy Berger began her 120-day assignment on Thursday, replacing John Ginnity. Ginnity announced his resignation earlier this month.
VA spokesman Mike Garcia says Ginnity will remain at Fort Harrison until his July 8 resignation takes effect, helping Berger with the transition and writing reports for VA officials in Washington.
Berger is the director of the VA’s health care system in Sheridan, Wyoming. She is expected to return to that job after her Montana assignment.
Ginnity did not specify a reason for his resignation.
The agency is conducting an internal investigation into leadership misconduct allegations at Fort Harrison. Garcia says Ginnity’s resignation is unrelated to the investigation.
Man pleads not guilty to kidnapping, raping Fort Peck girl
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A man has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and raping a 4-year-old girl who was taken from a park on a Montana Indian reservation earlier this year.
John William Lieba II entered his plea Thursday during a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Johnston.
A grand jury indicted Lieba Tuesday on charges of kidnapping someone under 18, aggravated sexual abuse and assault resulting in serious bodily injury on someone under 18. The charges carry a combined maximum penalty of life in prison and $750,000 in fines if he is convicted.
The indictment says Lieba abducted the girl in Wolf Point on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and held her for ransom in February. It says he engaged in a sexual act with the girl and assaulted her.
Researchers look into cause of crappie die-off near Havre
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — State wildlife officials are working to figure out why black crappie have been dying in the Bailey Reservoir south of Havre.
The Billings Gazette reports that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks crews responded to a report of dead crappie on June 6. They found 25 fish dead along the bank of the reservoir.
Staff from the agency suspect that it is a species-specific die-off targeting only spawning-age crappie. Recent surveys indicate that younger crappies, yellow perch and northern pike in the reservoir are unaffected.
Fisheries biologist Cody Nagel says in a news release that black crappie nearing the peak of their spawn can experience increased vulnerability to parasites and other health-related issues.
A similar die-off of crappie took place in Tongue River Reservoir in 2014.
White House says coal royalty hike would have modest effect
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Obama administration says a sharp increase in royalties paid by companies mining coal from federal lands across the West would trigger only modest reductions in U.S. coal production.
That report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers comes after new sales of federal coal leases were halted in January.
Officials are determining if longstanding royalty rates shortchange taxpayers.
The council says more than doubling the royalty rate would reduce mining from federal lands 7 percent. It would cut emissions from burning the fuel and bring as much as $730 million annually in new revenue.
The coal industry and many elected officials across the West oppose the sales moratorium. They say higher royalties will force job cuts.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop dismissed Wednesday’s report as “propaganda.”
The Latest: Union Pacific touts safety of fastening system
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad says the company’s rail fastening system has an outstanding safety history.
Spokesman Justin Jacobs’ statement was in response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary report on a June 3 fiery oil train derailment in the town of Mosier, Oregon. The report blamed Union Pacific for not properly maintaining its tracks and missing problems with bolts that fasten the rail ties to the rails.
Jacobs says the company will replace all the lag bolts with rail spikes, which will make problems easier to detect on inspections.
He also says an upgraded braking system called for by the Federal Railroad Administration wouldn’t have made a difference in the severity of the derailment.
Montana takes aim at surging jail, prison populations
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s overcrowded jails and prisons are prompting state officials to take a serious look at the complex issues behind the rising number of arrests, recidivism and policies behind a surge in incarcerations.
The state’s Commission on Sentencing on Thursday began considering more than two dozen policy options offered by the Council of State Governments, a national nonprofit that advises local governments on public policy. The commission is far from making recommendations.
The council is suggesting that Montana look into revamping presentencing guidelines, eliminating mandatory minimum jail sentences on some offenses and reconsidering how traffic offenses are handled by the criminal justice system.
The council says the Montana’s prison population is at capacity and could cost the state tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to expand capacity if incarceration trends continue.