Governor lauds regents for tuition freeze
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The governor is lauding the Montana Board of Regents for implementing a college tuition freeze.
The regents voted Friday in Great Falls on a plan to freeze college tuition over the next two years at college campuses for Montana residents.
Gov. Steve Bullock says it was important for him early in the budget process to negotiate the tuition freeze with the university system.
There is one exception. The plan does allow for a small tuition increase of about 2 percent each year at Miles City Community College that was requested locally.
Nonresident tuition will increase up to 3 percent each year at the colleges and universities.
The regents also approved fee increases of up to 3 percent at the universities and as much as 9 percent at the two-year colleges.
9th Circuit panel rules 2011 raids constitutional
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A panel of appellate judges has upheld the 2011 federal raids on Montana medical marijuana providers as constitutional.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on May 15 affirmed U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's dismissal of a lawsuit claiming the raids violated the providers' constitutional rights.
Fourteen providers and associations sued after federal authorities raided 26 businesses, warehouses and homes in as part of a drug-trafficking investigation.
The plaintiffs claim they were operating under a voter-approved Montana law and the government interfered with the rights and powers given to the states by the Constitution's 10th Amendment.
Molloy ruled the providers are bound by federal law making marijuana an illegal drug. The 9th Circuit panel agreed the federal government did not overstep its authority.
Guilty verdict in meth trial
HELENA (KBLL) -- A man who was part of a methamphetamine ring operating between Washington state and Helena has been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute, as well as actual distribution, of the drug.
32 year-old Ervin Osorio of Toppenish, Wash., faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and could be sentenced up to 40 years. He also could be fined up to $2 million. Osorio's sentencing is set for Sept. 11.
According to court documents, during 2010 and 2011, James Hatley and Stacy Fox bought meth from Osorio in eastern Washington, then would drive back to Helena and sell it. Hatley met Osario through Fox.
Both Fox and Hatley pleaded guilty on May 16 to distributing meth, and are awaiting sentencing on Aug. 22.
Central School plans
HELENA (KBLL) -- The superintendent of Helena Public Schools has detailed his plans for the displaced Central Elementary and Project for Alternative Learning students and families over the next three years.
Superintendent Kent Kultgen wants to move all Central students Lincoln School, and he also recommends that PAL students remain at the Front Street Learning Center.
Lincoln School would be expanded with six modular classrooms, and the Front Street Learning Center would be renovated and converted almost exclusively for PAL use.
Currently, some classes of Central students have been moved to Helena Middle School, and the remaining classes to Lincoln School, the former home of the PAL program.
Based on comparable projects, Kultgen estimates the changes at Lincoln would cost around $350,000.
To make more space for PAL at Front Street, Youth Connections and the Safe School/Healthy Students grant program and the VISTA program will move to Helena Middle School, The Lewis and Clark Literacy Council and the school district's board room will be moved to Ray Bjork Learning Center.
The School-Aged Child Care program will either stay at Front Street or move to another facility.
Kultgen estimates those renovations would cost between $125,000 and $150,000.Authorities identify men in in fatal shooting
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Authorities have identified two men involved in a fatal shooting during an apparent break-in at a home outside Helena.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff identified the homeowner as 66-year-old James Stiffler.
Stiffler told authorities he arrived at his home Wednesday and found an intruder inside. Police say Stiffler confronted the intruder and shot him in the chest.
Police say the intruder died after attempting to flee.
Coroner Mickey Nelson identified the deceased man as 37-year-old Henry Thomas Johnson III of Helena.
Nelson says Johnson died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Sheriff Leo Dutton says the evidence found so far matches Stiffler's account of the events.
Deputies are checking into burglaries in the area in which they believe Johnson may have been involved.
Angela Gray in court
HELENA (KBLL) -- Angelica Melody Gray, the Helena woman who was reported missing from the local YWCA in December but who turned up a few weeks later in California, admitted Wednesday to violating her probation by leaving the state. The 22 year-old Gray told District Judge Mike Menahan that she had changed her residence (by leaving the YWCA), traveled out of the area without permission and failed to report to her probation officer during that time.
Gray is already on probation after receiving a three-year deferral of sentencing for possessing hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana. Menahan set sentencing for July 3, and she faces up to five years in prison on the mushroom charge.
Also pending is a charge of criminal endangerment charge. Prosecutors say she left her two small children unattended in her room at the YWCA and left voluntarily for California; Gray has denied that charge.
She has been in jail since her arrest in California in late December.
Also Wednesday, Menahan sentenced Gray’s husband, 25 year old Joshua Gray for the production of hallucinogenic mushrooms and a separate criminal endangerment charge.Angela Gray in court
CUNNINGHAM NAMED CARROLL MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH
HELENA – Dr. Carson Cunningham, the head boys’ basketball coach at Andrean High School in Indiana, has been named the new head men’s basketball coach at Carroll College. Cunningham replaces Brandon Veltri, whose contract was not renewed after last season.
The former standout at both Oregon State and Purdue has spent the last five years at Andrean High School (his alma mater) in Merrillville, Indiana, where his teams have won 43 of their last 50 games. In five years at the helm, Cunningham has turned a program around that had won two games the season before he arrived into one that has won four straight sectional titles and has improved its win totals for five years running. This year, his Andrean team made it to the final four in Indiana’s second biggest class (3A) and was ranked #3 in the state.
“We are very excited that Carson has agreed to be our new head coach,” said Athletic Director Bruce Parker. “He brings tremendous enthusiasm and knowledge of the game to our program. He was an outstanding player and is a rising star in the coaching profession. His passion for the game is contagious and I have great confidence in his coaching and recruiting abilities.”
Cunningham has also been an instructor in the history department and the department of cinema and digital media at DePaul University in Chicago since 2006. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Purdue University (2000), a Master of Arts in Modern American History (2001) and a PhD in History (2006), also at Purdue. He is scheduled to complete his MBA at DePaul this spring.Governor picks new political practices chief
By MATT GOURAS
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock is picking a Helena lawyer who has worked on campaign finance issues to be the state's next commissioner of political practices.
Jonathan Motl will complete the final three years of a six-year term left vacant as three Democratic appointees did not complete confirmation through the Republican-controlled Senate.
Bullock says that Motl will improve the length of time it takes for the office to deal with complaints.
Motl faces Senate confirmation in early 2015. Republican lawmakers said during interviews that they are worried about Motl's past donations to Democratic candidates for office.
Motl said he is committed to enforcing campaign laws and the office's nonpartisan nature.
The attorney said he is leaving active practice in Helena. The new post pays about $58,000 per year.
Life sentence for raping grandmother
HELENA (KBLL) -- A federal court judge in Helena handed down a life sentence to a Browning man Monday for raping a 51-year-old grandmother last year.
49-year-old Donald Carl Salois had previously been found guilty of sexually abusin his own daughter when she was 3 and a step-daughter when she was 6. He served 10 years in the state prison for those offenses.
Salois was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse by a jury in January. He has been incarcerated since his arrest in August 2012.
U.S. District Court Sam Haddon called the over $860 thousand dollars that the sentence is projected to cost "money well spent," and Haddon added, "There are times when taxpayer dollars should be spent to ensure the public is protected, and this is one of those times."
There is no sentence reduction for "good time" in federal prison.
3 Companies to offer exchange insurance
HELENA (KBLL) --Three health insurance companies say they will sell health insurance through the federal insurance exchange in Montana.
Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen says Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource Health Plans and the Montana Health CO-OP all filed the necessary paperwork with her office by the May 15 deadline.
The program was created under the Affordable Care Act.
A website allowing Montanans to search for products from the exchange will come on-line in October, with coverage beginning in January 2014.
Schweitzer elected chairman of Stillwater board
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer says he is "focused like a laser" on improving the Stillwater Mining Co. after being elected chairman of the board.
But he tells The Associated Press he's not ruling out a potential 2014 Senate run. The Democrat says he has always been good at "keeping a couple of balls in the air."
Schweitzer has become the undeclared Democratic front-runner for the Montana Senate seat since Max Baucus announced his retirement.
Schweitzer says the next month will be dominated by Stillwater mining business.
He was among four new board members elected on May 2, after he led a group of shareholders unhappy with current management. The company announced Monday he will also chair the board.
He replaces Frank McAllister, who has served as chairman and CEO. Motorhome fire put out
HELENA (KBLL) -- A motor home and some sheds were destroyed in a fire in the 100 block of Chief Joseph Road early Saturday morning.
Chief Jerry Shepherd of the West Valley Volunteer Fire Department says the sheds and the motor home were total losses, Firefighters successfully rescued the man who was living in the motor home
Another nearby mobile home also caught fire, but firefighters were able to put the flames out before any property inside was damaged, Shepherd said.
The Lewis and Clark County Fire Department, East Valley Volunteer Fire Department, East Gate Volunteer Fire Department and Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the fire.
Senators beat Great Falls
The Helena Senators rebounded from a double-header loss to Missoula on Saturday with a come-from-behind win over the Great Falls Chargers 8-3. Ryan Estep threw a 5-hitter, walked only one, and allowed just two earned runs.
After a 2-run home run by Great Fall's Tyler Pfennings in the second inning, Estep drove in two runs himself with a double in the Helena 6-run fourth inning. Estep had two his on the day. Brad Tiefenthaler and Dan Hansen led the hosts with three hits apiece Zach Merzlak, who was moved up from the Reps on Saturday, posted two RBIs. Marcus Lindgren, pressed into duty a second base due to injuries, had two hits as well.
Center fielder Tristan Shea made several tough catches on long fly balls.
The Senators next action is in Missoula next Saturday in the Memorial Day Tournament, as they take on Bozeman at 12:30, and Missoula at 5:30. The broadcasts will begin at 12:20 and 5:20.
Man charged in Kessler electronics theft
HELENA (KBLL) -- A Helena man has been charged with the burglary of some $12,500 worth of electronics from Kessler Elementary last weekend .
20 year old Coty Alan Bass, appeared in Justice Court on a charge of possession of stolen property.
According to a police affidavit, school officials reported the theft of 32 iPods, 14 Kindle Fire tablets and other items Monday.
According to police, Amazon, the maker of the Kindle Fires reported to a achool official an unauthorized user had activated two of the tablets, according to the report.
Helena police then located Bass outside Kmart on Cedar Street, and found some of the missing property, according to the report. Further investigation turned up more of the items.
Bass told police he did not know the items were stolen from the school, according to the report.
He remains in Lewis and Clark County jail with bail at $50,000
MT Supreme Court upholds ethics violation decision
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a District Court ruling that former Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar violated ethics laws by using his state email address and a state-owned computer to solicit campaign donations in 2008.
The court also affirmed a finding by the commissioner of political practices that was upheld in court that Molnar improperly accepted $1,000 each from NorthWestern Energy and PPL Montana to print brochures advertising an energy conservation event and later used those brochures in his campaign without disclosing the donations. Both energy companies are regulated by the PSC.
The Supreme Court also upheld the proposed $20,700 fine, plus costs.
Wednesday's decision comes nearly five years after several complaints were filed Mary Jo Fox, the campaign manager for Molnar's opponent.
Bullock to make political practices pick next week
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock says the next political practices chief could still influence regulation of so-called "dark money" despite the failure of legislation dealing with the issue.
Bullock said Friday that he will name a new political practices commissioner next week. The position has suffered in recent years from partisan wrangling and high turnover.
The governor has interviewed five candidates that were suggested to him by the Legislature. He asked each about the increase in political contributions that avoid the sort of disclosure policed by the office.
Bullock said he is not restricted to that list of applicants, and could pick another candidate.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics recently ranked Montana as one of 26 states with a failing grade for disclosure requirements for outside interest groups.
Bullock says 'absolutely not' to Senate race
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says he is "absolutely not" interested in the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Max Baucus.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus announced last month that he would not be seeking re-election. It is the first open Montana Senate seat with no incumbent since the 1970s.
Bullock said Friday that he is only interested in the "great job" he has as governor of the state. The Democrat was elected to the post last year after one term as attorney general.
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is considering a Senate run. Other interested Democrats, including state auditor Monica Lindeen and state schools superintendent Denise Juneau, are waiting to see what Schweitzer does.
Republican Rep. Steve Daines and his predecessor Denny Rehberg are also looking at the race.
Helena teen faces arson charges for wildfires
HELENA, Mont. (AP/KBLL ) - An 18-year-old from Helena who investigators say was spotted near several recent fires wearing full firefighting gear faces 12 counts of arson for a series of fires in the Helena area.
Court records say Fredrick J. Maw V was spotted near fires that started in the Nelson area north of Helena on Wednesday as well as near Winston in Broadwater County, where a fire burned about 55 acres on Tuesday.
Maw was arrested Wednesday. Charging documents say he had a trigger-operated lighter with him.
Investigators say Maw eventually acknowledged starting fires near Priest Pass west of Helena last week, the Broadwater County fire and those set north of Helena.
Maw appeared in Justice Court yesterday, where bail was set at $100.000
Railroad car leak stopped
HELENA (KBLL) -- The Helena Fire Department was able to contain a gasoline leak at the Montana Rail Link yard yesterday afternoon. A leaking tank car was discovered at about 12:30 PM. A foam truck from the Helena Regional Airport was called in, and railroad crews were able to uncouple and move two other cars away from the leaking tanker. A valve seal on the car had failed, and after fire crews were able to stop the leak, railcar specialists repaired the car. Some 3 thousand gallons of gasoline were spilled, and cleanup efforts are under way.
Board may try mill levy again
HELENA (KBLL) -- Several members of the Helena School Board of Trustees said Tuesday night that the board and administration want to propose another set of building maintenance levies in coming months.
Voters rejected the high school and elementary school district building reserve levies in the May 7 school election.
According to board chair Libby Goldes, "Those really are critical funds that the district uses on a daily basis to maintain our buildings," adding that the money raised would pay for needed new roofs, flooring, repairs to school boilers and other similar needs.
District studies s say that there are some $60 million worth of maintenance projects that are needed in Helena's schools. On average, the district's buildings are 64 years old. The newest building is 36 years old and the oldest is over 100. Through the recent educational planning process
The failure of the levies calls the future of Central School into question, and Superintendent Kent Kultgen said that he would have recommendations to present to the board on how to meet the needs of displaced Central School and Project for Alternative Learning students by the board's next meeting, on May 28.
Kessler school robbed
HELENA (KBLL) -- Helena police are investigating the theft of thousands of dollars worth of electronics from Kessler Elementary School in a burglary over the weekend. Some $11,000 to $13,000 worth of iPods, Kindle Fire e-readers and iPads have been taken.
Staff members discovered the burglary Monday morning, and also found a door that had been forced open.
The stolen items were covered by insurance.
High court strikes order for new Barry Beach trial
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Supreme Court has reversed a judge's order that released convicted murderer Barry Beach two years ago.
The Supreme Court said in a 4-3 decision Tuesday that Beach will not receive a new trial.
A Lewistown judge in 2011 granted Beach a new trial after ruling new evidence raised doubts about his guilt. Beach has since been living in Billings.
Beach had been in prison for the 1979 killing of a 17-year-old girl on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Advocates argued he was wrongly convicted.
Beach had not been taken into custody by Tuesday evening. He told The Associated Press he just learned of the decision and didn't know what it meant.
Attorney General spokesman John Barnes says he can't comment on whether or when Beach will be arrested. GOP picks commission candidates
HELENA (KBLL) -- The Lewis and Clark County Republican Party has chosen its three candidates to fill a vacancy on the county commission.
Tom Rolfe, Steve Bostrom and Susan Geise were selected from a pool of four candidates as possible replacements for Derek Brown, who resigned from the county com