Montana House Races to Meet Mid-session Deadline
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House is racing to beat a mid-session deadline to consider a final slate of bills before adjourning for a break later this week.
The state Senate broke Friday for a weeklong recess and will return next Monday to wade through a heap of legislation that survived the so-called transmittal deadline.
On Tuesday, the House passed several contentious proposals — including renaming Columbus Day to “Montana Heritage Day,” criminalizing physician-assisted suicide and transparency over health care prices. The House also passed a resolution to urge the state’s Congressional delegation to remove federal protections for grizzly bears in Montana.
Debate over the state budget looms when both chambers of the legislature return next week.
Each chamber has a March 1 deadline to pass most bills in order for the other to chamber to consider them.
Supreme Court overturns conviction in infant death
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has overturned a Great Falls woman’s conviction for assaulting her infant daughter, saying her confession was involuntary because she believed she was providing information to help doctors treat her dying daughter.
Jasmine Eskew was acquitted of deliberate homicide in her daughter’s September 2012 death, but she was convicted of assault on a minor. She was sentenced to five years under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote Tuesday’s 5-2 opinion that said a District Court judge was wrong to deny a pre-trial motion to suppress Eskew’s confession.
The dissenting justices said they would have allowed the confession and addressed another issue of the appeal — whether the judge was wrong to disallow expert testimony about circumstances that can lead to false confessions.
Great Falls man pleads guilty to bank fraud charges
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — The 52-year-old former president of a failed restaurant group has pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud charges.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that Ken Hatzenbeller pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls on Tuesday.
Prosecutors accused him of lying to a Utah bank about how he intended to spend the $500,000 loan granted to him in September 2014.
His sentencing is set for May 18, where he could potentially be sentenced to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Hatzenbeller has been granted supervised release until his sentencing hearing.
Authorities identify woman killed in crash with school bus
RONAN, Mont. (AP) — Lake County officials have released the name of a Kalispell-area woman who died after her sport utility vehicle collided with a school bus on U.S. Highway 93 just north of Ronan.
Sheriff Don Bell says 56-year-old Cheryl Ann Brown died in the crash Monday morning. A male passenger was treated at a local hospital and released.
Bell says no one on the bus suffered serious injuries.
Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Zach Miller says the SUV was northbound at about 8 a.m. when it drifted into the path of the oncoming bus. The bus driver was unable to avoid the collision.
Zinke heads toward confirmation as Interior secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) — Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke (ZIN’-kee) appears headed toward confirmation as President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary, responsible for more than 400 million acres of public land, mostly in the West.
The Republican-controlled Senate has scheduled a vote on Zinke’s nomination Wednesday morning.
Zinke, a Republican in his second term as Montana’s sole House member, says federal land management should be done under a “multiple-use” model that allows hiking, hunting, fishing and camping along with harvesting timber, mining for coal and drilling for oil and natural gas.
Zinke also pledges to tackle an estimated $12 billion backlog in maintenance and repair at national parks and stand firm against attempts to sell, give away or transfer federal lands.
Zinke, 55, is a former Navy SEAL and state senator and a fifth-generation Montanan.
Butte DUI suspect says he has 22 prior convictions
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A 54-year-old man arrested in Butte on suspicion of driving under the influence told authorities he had 22 prior convictions for the same crime.
The Montana Standard reports (bit.ly/2lPJBR3) Clinton Sproles was arrested late Saturday.
Officials haven’t confirmed Sproles’ statement about his criminal record, but the Gallatin County attorney’s office found 18 prior DUI convictions in various states going back to the 1970s when Sproles was arrested there in 2008.
State Department of Justice records indicate Sproles was declared a persistent felony offender after a felony DUI conviction in Granite County in 2005 and was sentenced to just over six years in prison with part of that time suspended. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2008 and was on parole in that case at the time of his arrest.