County official challenges law on nonpartisan candidates
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Lincoln County official is asking a federal judge to strike down a Montana law that bars nonpartisan candidates from campaigning as Republicans or Democrats.
Clerk and Recorder Robin Benson says in the lawsuit filed Tuesday that she has a right under the First Amendment to call herself a Republican while campaigning. She says that right trumps state law that says a nonpartisan candidate may not use the name of a political party.
Benson’s attorney, Matthew Monforton, says the lawsuit would not affect nonpartisan judicial races.
Lincoln County began holding nonpartisan elections in 2009.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl is named as a defendant. He says he disagrees with Benson’s argument and that the judge must decide whether the election standards set by Lincoln County can be overcome by one person’s First Amendment claim.
Marijuana-, tobacco-smuggling guard gets 20 months in prison
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A former Montana State Prison guard who pleaded guilty to smuggling marijuana and tobacco to inmates has been sentenced to 20 months in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon sentenced 25-year-old Martin Reap of Deer Lodge on Tuesday. His prison sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release.
Reap acknowledged receiving about $6,400 for smuggling contraband into the prison 20 times over the course of about a year, beginning in February 2015.
Reap’s plea agreement called for dismissing charges of drug conspiracy, possession and distribution.
FBI agents began investigating allegations of contraband being smuggled into the prison in 2015. The investigation led to a separate indictment charging five people with smuggling methamphetamine and another drug to inmates through a prison laundry worker. All five have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Billings man with knives, improvised pipe bomb arrested
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a Billings man who they say was armed with knives and an improvised pipe bomb.
The Billings Gazette reports that the 33-year-old suspect has been jailed on suspicion of felony assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer.
The incident began Tuesday when police responded to a grouping of mobile homes on a report of shots fired. Sgt. Jason Gartner says arriving officers cleared the homes and didn’t find a gunshot victim.
Police then spotted the suspect nearby and chased after him when he ran away.
Gartner says officers approached the suspect and ordered him to drop the knives.
Officers then tackled the suspect as he reached into his pocket for what authorities later determined to be an improvised pipe bomb.
NorthWestern Energy appeals taxable valuation
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — NorthWestern Energy has successfully appealed its 2016 taxable valuation and reduced its projected property taxes by $29 million.
The Billings Gazette reports the utility reached the agreement with the Department of Revenue on Friday.
Agency appraisers had increased the value of NorthWestern Energy’s Montana properties from $2.2 billion in 2015 to $2.6 billion this year. The negotiated settlement sets the taxable value at about $2.4 billion.
NorthWestern spokesman Butch Larcombe says before the settlement, the utility was looking at a tax bill that would increase from $122 million to about $163 million. Under the settlement, the company will pay $134 million in taxes, or about $12 million more than last year.
Attorney general: No authority to investigate Bullock emails
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana Department of Justice official says the agency doesn’t have the authority to investigate what happened to Gov. Steve Bullock’s emails when he was attorney general.
Republican Sen. Scott Sales asked Attorney General Tim Fox to investigate after Yellowstone Club founder Tim Blixseth was denied a wide-ranging request for Bullock’s emails between 2009 and 2013.
Republicans backing Bullock opponent Greg Gianforte in this year’s election have tried to tie Bullock to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by associating both with deleting official emails.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Alan Joscelyn says in a letter to Sales that Bullock did not turn over any emails when Fox took office.
Bullock spokesman Tim Crowe tells the Great Falls Tribune that public records and case files were handed over to Fox and the email accounts were closed.
Senator: Loopholes allow for trafficking of tribal items
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A U.S. lawmaker says loopholes in federal laws have left authorities with little leverage in seeking the return of tribal religious items that are illegal to trade in the United States but sell for thousands of dollars in foreign markets.
The comments Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, came during a field hearing in Albuquerque, where tribal leaders and representatives of several federal agencies — including the U.S. State, Interior and Justice departments — are delivering testimony.
Heinrich has sponsored legislation in the Senate seeking to broaden the scope of a federal law designed to crack down on looting, trafficking and exporting of federally protected Native American items.
The legislation would prohibit dealers from exporting protected Native Americans items of cultural or historical importance for tribes to international markets.