US to consider sharp hike in royalties from coal mines
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials will consider hiking royalty rates by 50 percent on coal extracted from massive strip mines on public lands under a pending overhaul of a U.S. Interior Department program.
The first outlines of a planned three-year evaluation of the government coal program were released Thursday. Lower royalty rates to stimulate mining also will be considered.
The Obama administration in January imposed a moratorium on new coal leases to address the costs of climate change and ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers. Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw says Thursday’s notice sets “sideboards” for that review.
The royalty increase from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent would apply to coal from strip mines primarily in Western states. Wyoming and Montana are home to many of the largest mines.
Woman arrested for DUI after driving to ‘Coffee with a Cop’
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana woman who police said was stumbling and smelled of alcohol was arrested after driving to a cafe hosting a “Coffee with a Cop” event.
Great Falls Lt. Doug Mahlum says 66-year-old Charlene Kranitz walked by more than a dozen uniformed officers in Schulte’s Coffeehouse on Wednesday to get to a frozen yogurt machine.
The Great Falls Tribune reports Mahlum followed the woman to the parking lot, where he saw her vehicle resting against a light pole. He says he arrested Kranitz after establishing that she was well over the legal limit to drive.
Mahlum said he was shocked and noted that his patrol car was parked in front of the building — lights flashing.
Kranitz pleaded not guilty Thursday morning to a misdemeanor DUI count. Efforts to reach her for comment were not immediately successful Thursday.
Panel considers options to ease growing burden on courts
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A state judicial commission responsible for redrawing judicial districts has released a slate of proposals aimed at making the court system better able to handle its growing caseload. But in the end, the commission’s work may only underscore the need for more judges, not judicial redistricting.
The commission will review six proposals drafted by its members when it reconvenes April 6 at the state Capitol. At least one proposal would increase the number of districts by one to 23. But none of the proposals calls for adding more judges, despite recent studies that suggest at least 21 more judges are needed.
The legislature established the panel last year to study if realigning the state’s 22 judicial districts might ease the pressure partly caused by the growth in drug cases.
Supreme Court overturns sentencing in Whitefish arson case
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has overturned the sentence in a Whitefish arson case, finding the judge was wrong not to allow the defendant to withdraw his “no contest” plea when the judge didn’t follow the plea agreement.
The court on Tuesday sent the case of 35-year-old James Wallace Langley to District Court in Flathead County for another sentencing hearing.
The justices said the judge can accept the plea agreement and re-sentence Langley or give him the opportunity to withdraw his plea.
Under the non-binding plea agreement, prosecutors recommended a six-year deferred sentence for setting fire to the siding of his ex-girlfriend’s house in October 2013. District Judge Robert Allison didn’t feel that was enough time for “an act calculated to injure or kill.” He sentenced Langley to five years with the Department of Corrections.
Family of man killed by deputies to go to mediation
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The family of a 28-year-old man who was fatally shot by two Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputies will participate in mediation in an attempt to settle a federal civil lawsuit against the county.
The Billings Gazette reports that a judge on Wednesday set the mediation for April. A Great Falls attorney will serve as the mediator between the family and the county.
Loren Simpson died in January 2015 after driving toward two deputies in a vehicle that had been reported stolen. Deputies Jason Robinson and Christopher Rudolph opened fire on Simpson and both resigned days after the shooting.
A coroner’s inquest found the two deputies justified in the shooting.
The family’s wrongful death suit alleges violations of Simpsons’ constitutional rights and says the family has suffered $10 million in damages.
Judge blocks suspension of Helena physician’s license
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A judge has blocked the state Board of Medical Examiners’ decision to suspend the medical license of a Helena physician.
The board sanctioned Dr. Mark Ibsen on Tuesday after finding he prescribed excessive quantities of narcotics to five patients and failed to adequately chart his reasons for re-writing some prescriptions early. But a judge intervened Thursday and blocked the suspension.
The board had said Ibsen could apply for reinstatement after meeting several conditions, including taking a course on medical record keeping. With a reinstated license, he would have to work under supervision for at least a year and after that face annual audits of his patient charts until the board decided they were no longer necessary.
The Independent Record reports the judge’s intervention means Ibsen’s license will remain valid in the meantime.
Elderly woman hit, killed by SUV east of Columbus
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Authorities say an 86-year-old woman was killed when she was hit by an SUV east of Columbus.
Trooper Todd Hagenbach with the Montana Highway Patrol says the accident happened Thursday morning after a driver stopped to check on the elderly woman, who was lying in the road. The elderly woman was then hit by an SUV.
The Billings Gazette reports the driver of the SUV was a nurse and immediately began CPR on the victim, whose name has not been released.
Investigators say the victim suffered from diminished capacity from a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
BNSF Railway cuts price of shipping Montana grain
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — BNSF Railway is lowering the price of shipping Montana grain due to cheaper diesel fuel and lower demand.
BNSF announced on Wednesday a $100 per-car reduction for wheat shipments. Grain typically ships more than 100 cars at a time.
Montana Grain Growers Association Executive Vice President Lola Raska says the price reduction is good news for farmers who continued to hold on to wheat with hopes demand for U.S. grain would improve.
There has been a surplus of wheat on the global market, which is driving prices down. Roughly 80 percent of Montana wheat is exported, according to the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee.
Shipping rates for pulse crops such as peas and lentils were also reduced $75 per car.
Supreme Court takes up speedy trial dispute in Montana case
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the constitutional right to a speedy trial applies to a defendant who’s already been convicted, but whose sentencing was delayed.
Brandon Betterman’s seven-year prison sentence in a Montana court came 14 months after he pleaded guilty to jumping bail in 2012.
Montana prosecutors argue the Sixth Amendment’s language is clear: Betterman’s trial ended with his plea, and with it his claim to a Sixth Amendment violation.
Betterman argues the constitutional right extends to the sentencing phase of legal proceedings.
Betterman pleaded guilty to bail jumping after he failed to appear in court on a domestic assault charge. He waited 14 months in the Butte-Silver Bow Detention Center before receiving his sentence.
Oral arguments in the case will be held Monday.