Unexpected income taxes boost Montana rainy day fund
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Legislative analysts are telling lawmakers that Montana had about $455 million in reserves at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.
The state’s rainy day fund totaled about $90 million more on Aug. 31 than originally projected due to unexpected revenue, unspent emergency funds and lower-than-usual costs.
Revenue from income taxes was about 3 percent, or $33.3 million, higher than expected.
Fiscal analyst Stephanie Morrison says it appears the unforeseen increase in individual income taxes is due to stock income growth in an improving economy, not higher-than-expected wages.
About $13.5 million in planned emergency funding was not needed and corporate taxes came in $18.5 million higher than anticipated.
Analyst Sam Schaefer says the increase in corporate taxes is due almost entirely to a large one-time audit.
Montana to explore purchasing private prison in Shelby
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana lawmakers will explore whether to purchase the privately run Crossroads Correctional Center when the state’s 20-year contract with Corrections Corporation of America is up in 2019.
The Legislative Finance Committee is taking up the issue at its Thursday meeting.
Montana has the option to either purchase the Shelby prison or renew the contract for another five years. The finance committee plans to analyze the costs and treatment abilities of private prisons compared to state-run prisons, with a study expected to be completed by March.
The prison houses about 550 state inmates.
Former staff and prisoners, relatives and advocacy groups have complained for years the prison is understaffed and the inmates are mistreated. A 2011 audit found the prison was largely in compliance with its state contract, but the complaints have continued.
Double-digit health insurance rate hikes approved
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s insurance commissioner says there will be double-digit rate hikes for health insurance purchased through the online exchange created by President Barack Obama’s health law.
Commissioner Monica Lindeen’s office says the average rate increase for all plans next year will range between 22 percent and 34 percent. For the popular Silver plan, the increase will range from $80 to $88 a month for a 40-year-old person.
Lindeen said Thursday the rates affect about 41,000 people. They don’t include people who receive federal tax credits or those who have insurance through their employers.
The increases are in line with what the three insurers who offer policies through the online marketplace were requesting. Those companies said in June that the claims they paid out last year were higher than the premiums they took in.
Man denies homicide charge, shooting preceded manhunt
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A 26-year-old Great Falls man has pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide for a fatal shooting that sparked a three-day manhunt north of Helena.
Branden Miesmer entered his plea Thursday before District Judge Dirk Sandefur in Great Falls. His trial was scheduled for Feb. 22.
Miesmer is charged with shooting 26-year-old Cody Steve Bruyere late on Sept. 6 or early the next day.
Two people said Miesmer forced them to drive him to Helena and he eventually let them go before leading police on a chase, forcing a man and two children out of their car near Lake Helena and abandoning the vehicle near Hauser Dam.
Miesmer was arrested on Sept. 9.
Cascade County Attorney John Parker said Miesmer was under investigation for drug trafficking and Bruyere may also have been involved in illegal drugs.
Jury acquits man of deliberate homicide in vet’s 1996 death
(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)
FORT BENTON, Mont. (AP) — A South Dakota man has been acquitted of killing his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend in central Montana nearly two decades ago.
The Great Falls Tribune reports jurors deliberated for nearly eight hours Wednesday before finding Thomas Jaraczeski not guilty of deliberate homicide in the 1996 shooting death of Geraldine veterinarian Bryan Rein.
The state argued that Jaraczeski stalked his former girlfriend when she began dating Rein.
The defense argued that another man could have been responsible for the killing and questioning Rein’s time of death, suggesting it might have occurred during a time that Jaraczeski had an alibi.
Jaraczeski was charged in 1998, but the case was dropped when a judge ruled evidence obtained through the use of a bloodhound could not be used. He was arrested in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in April 2014.
Montana officials review state’s school funding formula
(Information in the following story is from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com)
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — State lawmakers and educators are reviewing the state funding formula for education a decade after a lawsuit forced Montana to create the system.
Lee Newspapers of Montana reports the School Funding Interim Commission set priorities Wednesday during the group’s first meeting in Helena.
The commission plans to conduct research and make recommendations to legislators in 2017. Members say they will test the funding formula’s efficacy in small, isolated communities.
The group will also look at aspects of a 2005 legal settlement that advocates say were never met, including recruiting and keeping teachers, creating a school facilities funding system and giving more support to special education programs.
Chairman Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, says creating a system funding facilities upgrades and construction may pose the greatest challenge for the commission.
Former tribal firefighter sentenced for arson
(Information in the following story is from: KERR-AM, http://www.750kerr.com/)
POLSON, Mont. (AP) — A former firefighter with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes has been given a 20-year suspended sentence with the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to setting several fires on the Flathead Indian Reservation in 2013 and 2014.
Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher tells KERR-AM that Phillip Cody Haynes’s sentencing Thursday included a requirement that he pay about $100,000 in restitution.
Haynes pleaded guilty to felony arson in July.
Court records say a fire near Arlee in July 2013 burned over two square miles and forced the evacuation of 21 homes and several campgrounds. More than 300 firefighters battled that blaze.
MSU student president resigns after DUI, censure
(Information in the following story is from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com)
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — The president of the Montana State University student government has resigned after being censured for a DUI arrest in August.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports agriculture student Gwynn Simeniuk wrote an open letter to students on Wednesday saying she was resigning as president of the Associated Students of Montana State University, effective on Oct. 1.
Vice president Levi Birky will succeed Simeniuk and appoint a new vice president who must be confirmed by the student senate.
Simeniuk was arrested on Aug. 16 at 3 a.m. after an officer saw her getting into a running car parked on a sidewalk. Her case is still pending.
Simeniuk apologized to fellow students and was censured by the student senate last week. They did not call for her resignation, but asked her to give up her tuition waiver for the second semester.
Billings man sentenced for violent attack on elderly veteran
(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 27-year-old Billings man has been sentenced to 10 years with the Department of Corrections, with five suspended, for a brutal attack in which an elderly veteran was beaten, burned and robbed.
The Billings Gazette reports District Judge Michael Moses sentenced Adam Scott Nelson on Thursday for breaking into a house in December 2013, beating a man and pouring fluid on his back and setting it on fire. Nelson fled after taking $180.
Nelson pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, robbery and attempted arson. An aggravated assault charge was dismissed.
Public defender Gregory Paskell said Nelson’s crimes were the act of a desperate and unthinking man. The victim’s family said they felt Nelson got off too easily.
The victim had previously allowed Nelson and his mother to live with him because they were homeless.
Washington state man dies in rollover crash in Montana
(Information in the following story is from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com)
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A 44-year-old man died in a rollover crash on the Interstate 90-15 interchange about 5 miles west of Butte.
The Montana Highway Patrol reports the man from Des Moines, Washington, was northbound on I-15 at about 6:30 a.m. Thursday when he took a tight corner too fast. His convertible went off the road, collided with a concrete barrier and overturned in the ditch.
The Montana Standard reports the man was pinned under the vehicle.
Trooper Matt Christensen said the man’s name was being withheld until family members could be notified.