Lawmaker proposes moving legislative sessions to even years
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Bozeman lawmaker proposes moving the state’s legislative sessions to even-numbered years to give newly-elected lawmakers more time to learn the system, hold committee meetings and propose more thoughtful legislation.
The House State Administration committee heard House Bill 571 on Monday and planned to vote on Tuesday.
Democratic Rep. Kathleen Williams said her bill also would give newly elected governors more time to hire their staffs and propose their own budget, rather than the budget prepared by the previous governor.
The move would fully take effect in 2020.
Republican Sen. Kris Hansen of Havre introduced a similar bill in 2013 when she served in the House. It was tabled in committee.
Montana House kills repeal of death penalty on tie vote
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Representatives have voted down a bill that would end capital punishment in Montana.
Members of the House of Representatives voted 50-50 on Monday to fail House Bill 370 on second reading. Three Democrats and 47 Republicans voted against the measure and 12 Republicans joined 38 Democrats in voting for it.
Republican Rep. David Moore of Missoula introduced the proposal in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 13. Committee members passed the bill 11-10.
Representatives debated the repeal for more than 20 minutes. Supporters called for life imprisonment over death. Opponents said repealing the death penalty would be unfair to victims.
Similar bills have survived the Senate, but in the last two sessions have failed in the House.
Two men currently imprisoned in Montana have been sentenced to die.
Lawmaker proposes tax credit for private school tuition
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker has revived a proposal to provide tax credits for private education that narrowly failed the 2013 Montana Legislature.
Rep. Seth Berglee of Joliet introduced House Bill 433 on Friday in the House Education Committee. It would give up to $1,000 in tax credit to those who pay tuition for elementary or secondary school.
Berglee and a representative for Americans for Prosperity said the proposal would put competition between educational institutions on a level the playing field.
Opponents say it could indirectly provide public dollars to private educational institutions, which violates the Montana Constitution.
Republican Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick introduced similar legislation last session. House Bill 213 made it through the House of Representatives but died in the Senate on a vote of 24-24.
Oil patch murder defendant to be sentenced in April
SIDNEY, Mont. (AP) — A Colorado man who pleaded guilty to killing a Montana teacher in an oil boom town will be sentenced this spring.
District Judge Richard Simonton scheduled an April 17 sentencing hearing for 25-year-old Michael Keith Spell of Parachute, Colorado.
Spell pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide for the January 2012 death of Sidney High School math teacher Sherry Arnold. Her body was found more than two months later in a shallow grave in North Dakota.
Spell told Simonton in October that he and co-defendant Lester Van Waters Jr. had smoked crack cocaine before grabbing Arnold while she was jogging and that he wasn’t sure who killed her.
Spell’s attorneys have said they will seek a sentence to the state health department, which could allow him to serve his time in a facility for the mentally disabled. Waters is serving 80 years.
Former Youth Services counselor pleads guilty to rape
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A former Youth Services counselor has pleaded guilty to two felony rape charges for having sex with a 17-year-old girl under his supervision.
The Billings Gazette reports 37-year-old Brad Douglas Johnson entered his plea in District Court on Monday. He remains free on a previously posted $50,000 bond. A sentencing date has not been set.
Court records say the director of Ted Lechner Regional Youth Services Center in Billings called police in December 2013 after a girl reported she had had sex with Johnson. The girl’s cellphone contained text conversations and pornographic pictures Johnson had taken of himself.
The Yellowstone County attorney’s office says Johnson was placed on paid administrative leave when the investigation began and he was fired days before his arrest January 2014 arrest in New Town, North Dakota.
Former tribal college president acquitted in kickbacks trial
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A jury has acquitted the former president of Stone Child College on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and her husband of taking kickbacks from a construction company.
The Havre Daily News reports the jury returned its verdict Friday afternoon after a four-day trial in Great Falls.
Both Melody Henry and her husband, Frank, were charged with conspiring to use federal money to overpay a construction company in exchange for kickbacks totaling just over $242,000.
Frank Henry was manager of the college’s facilities department.
Woman dies in head-on crash in Missoula
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Two vehicles struck head-on on the Reserve Street Bridge in Missoula, causing the death of a 24-year-old woman.
Missoula County authorities say Kelita Marie Strope was in a car driven by her husband.
Police Sgt. Travis Welsh says the car was northbound at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday when it crossed the center line into the path of a southbound pickup truck driven by a 57-year-old man.
All three people were taken to the hospital, Strope was pronounced dead.
Welsh said the drivers did not suffer life-threatening injuries.
Montana woman struck and killed on Wyoming road
GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — A 59-year-old Montana woman who was walking along a road in Gillette at night was struck by two vehicles and killed.
Gillette police identified the victim of the Feb. 19 collisions as Nancy Elizabeth Morse of Great Falls, Montana.
Lt. Chuck Deaton tells the Gillette News Record that Morse was walking along the road when she was hit by a pickup truck. A second vehicle swerved to avoid hitting the woman and the truck. A third vehicle hit the woman.
Deaton says police do not know why Morse was walking along the road at 11:10 p.m. Thursday.
The drivers involved are cooperating with the investigation.