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Helena News with Jay Scott

Governor weighs in on Beach's clemency application

 Associated Press

     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock is asking the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole to consider whether Barry Beach has served enough time in prison.
     Bullock sent the board a letter Wednesday, less than a week before the board reviews Beach's application for clemency in the 1979 killing of Kim Nees of Poplar.
     The governor says the reasons for maintaining Beach's 100-year sentence at taxpayer expense diminish every year.
     It is rare for a governor to weigh in on a parole board case.
     The board will consider whether Beach's circumstances have changed enough to merit an investigation. If so, the board will hold a hearing and decide whether to recommend clemency.
     Beach was released in 2011 to await a new trial, but sent back to prison in 2013 to finish his sentence.

CHS grad rate up, problems down

HELENA (KBLL) -- Good news today from Capital High.

School officials have told the school board trustees that not only is the high school's graduation rate up 10 points this year, to 93 percent, but that rate is the highest of any AA school in the state.

Assistant principal Kathy Kidder credited a program of intervening to help at-risk students.

School officials also report a drop in behavioral problems over the past five years.
 In 2010, the number of "office discipline referrals" was around 950. Last year, the number of referrals had dropped to 641 and may decrease again this year, according to assistant principal Walt Chancy.

Around 40 percent of office referrals this year involve student use of phones or other electronics. Chancy said new, clearer school policy on cellphone use will help solve that problem.

Traffic stop leads to drug arrest

 HELENA (KBLL) -- An East Helena woman has been arrested on drug and DUI charges after a traffic stop. 32 year old Lindsey Leota Litche was seen by police making an illegal turn on North Montana Avenue and Lyndale, where right hand turns or red are prohibited.

 An officer on patrol pulled her over, and then saw a glass pipe and two syringes used to ingest methamphetamine.

 A breathalyzer test at the Lewis and Clark Detention Center found she was over the legal limit.

 She is charged with one count of felony possession of dangerous drugs, one count of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, one count of misdemeanor DUI, one count of misdemeanor failure to obey a traffic control device and a probation violation.

     Dark-money complaint against MT senator dismissed
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The commissioner of political practices has dismissed a complaint accusing a Republican senator from Great Falls of coordinating his 2010 campaign with a secretive conservative group.
     Commissioner Jonathan Motl writes in his decision issued Tuesday that there is insufficient evidence to find Sen. Ed Buttrey illegally coordinated with Western Tradition Partnership.
     Motl says Buttrey and Western Tradition Partnership had an arms-length client-vendor relationship for printing services. Motl says that is a different relationship from the nine other 2010 candidates that Motl determined illegally coordinated with the group.
     Motl filed civil actions against those nine candidates, including Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich of Bozeman and Rep. Mike Miller of Helmville.
     Buttrey defeated Democrat Kathy Galvin-Halcro in the 2010 general election. The complaint was filed this February by David Ponte of Bozeman.

     7 whooping cough cases confirmed around Helena
     (Information in the following story is from: Independent Record,
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Health officials say seven cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in and around Helena.
     Karen Wandel of the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department tells the Independent Record ( ) that two or three more cases would have to be reported to consider it an outbreak.
     Wandel says the cases began appearing this month and have affected children from preschool to high school ages. Four of the seven cases have been reported at Capital High School.
     Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe coughing. The illness can be potentially deadly to infants or small children who are too young to be vaccinated.
     Wandel advises parents to have their pre-teen children vaccinated and adults to make sure they have had pertussis booster shots.

Montana News and Sports

     Georgia man pleads guilty in Mont. check scheme
     BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A Georgia man accused of recruiting Montana transients to participate in a check-cashing scheme has pleaded guilty to forgery charges.
     Chaney Demond Sibley of Atlanta appeared Tuesday before District Judge Russell Fagg in Billings.
     Prosecutors say the 27-year-old Sibley and three others forged payroll checks stolen from mailboxes using transients' personal information. They paid the transients to cash the checks.
     Charging documents say they cashed about $24,500 in checks between Jan. 6 and 8.
     A plea agreement to five felony counts recommends that Sibley be given a suspended 10-year prison sentence, pay a $500 fine and write apology letters to the victims.
     Another man, Justin Phillips, also has pleaded guilty to forgery.
     Two other men from Georgia are accused of a series of similar check-cashing sprees in October and November.
     Attorney general turns over frack letter records
     (Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune,
     GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has given a conservation group the records it wanted about Fox's decision to join other states in protesting plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.
     The Great Falls Tribune reports Fox's office turned over the documents to the Montana Environmental Information Center on Wednesday, one day before a judge was to hear arguments in an open-records lawsuit.
     The contents of the documents weren't immediately known.
     The center first asked for the records in August. Fox released some of the documents in November and January but withheld others, in part citing litigation or expected litigation.
     The center filed suit in January.
     Fox spokesman John Barnes said Wednesday the Attorney General's Office was no longer concerned that releasing the documents would compromise any litigation.
     Union: Stillwater lays off 31 workers
     (Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette,
     BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Union officials say Stillwater Mining Co. has laid off 31 workers.
     Sandi Luckey of the Montana AFL-CIO tells the Billings Gazette the workers laid off over the weekend were not members of United Steelworkers local 11-0001.
     She says union members were not given notice or explanation for the layoffs.
     Stillwater official declined to comment Wednesday before a May 1 call with investors.
     The Billings-based company operates palladium and platinum mines in the Beartooth Mountains, the only such mines in the United States.
     Shares of Stillwater dropped .04 cents Wednesday to close at $15.38 per share.
     Montana sentenced in Washington cold case killing
     (Information in the following story is from: Ravalli Republic,
     HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - A 60-year-old Montana man has been sentenced to less than 3  1/2 years in prison for the 1996 death of a Kirkland, Wash., woman.
     Clifford Reed of Victor was sentenced to 41 months in the slaying of 28-year-old Sandi Johnson, whose remains were found in Pierce County eight years after she disappeared.
     Reed was arrested in 2012. He pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in March and was sentenced in King County Superior Court on April 11.
     The Ravalli Republic reports Reed had already spent 494 days in jail and should be free by 2016.
     King County Prosecutor's Office chief of staff Ian Goodhew says the 41-month sentence was at the top of the range for manslaughter in 1996.
     Since then, Washington state has increased the manslaughter sentencing range.
     Attorney general to defend cap on court awards
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana's attorney general intends to defend the state's limit on the punitive damages that can be awarded to an individual by a judge or jury.
     The attorney general's office filed notice with the Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday that Tim Fox will intervene in a constitutional challenge of the $10 million punitive-damage cap.
     District Judge Kurt Krueger of Butte previously ruled the cap is not a large enough deterrent for a big company. The ruling came in a case in which a jury awarded a $52 million judgment against Comerica Inc. for reneging on a 2008 agreement with a Butte-based office supply company.
     The company, Masters Group International Inc., is asking the Supreme Court to uphold Krueger's ruling that the state law setting the cap is unconstitutional.
     Kalispell police await shooting death lab results
     (Information in the following story is from: Daily Inter Lake,
     KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Kalispell police say they have completed their investigation and are awaiting lab results from evidence gathered in an apparent murder-suicide.
     Police Chief Roger Nasset tells The Daily Inter Lake in a story published Wednesday the Montana Crime Lab is analyzing evidence from the scene of last month's shooting.
     Authorities say Stacy and Dan Fleck, both 51, were found on the floor in one of the bedrooms of their house.
     Police responded after dispatchers received a call from a man saying his father had just shot his mother and was going to commit suicide.
     Feds seek $211K in fines from Minn. company
     BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Federal safety regulators are proposing $211,000 in fines for a Minnesota agriculture company that authorities say repeatedly failed to make sure workers weren't exposed grain dust hazards in Montana.
     The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday cited CHS Inc. for 19 violations following inspections at grain-handling facilities in Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier.
     Three were repeat violations, including failing to test the air quality in work spaces for potentially explosive grain dust, hazardous gases or lack of oxygen.
     Fourteen were classified as serious, meaning there was a substantial probability of a worker death or injury.
     The company has the option to contest the fines.
     A CHS worker was killed in Kansas in 2010 when he fell into what regulators said was an inadequately protected grain bin.
     Scaled-back Montana bison plan considered
     (Eds: Adds missing word "a" to first paragraph to clarify. APNewsNow. Will be updated. AP Photos planned.)
     BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana's top wildlife official is scaling back expectations for a statewide bison conservation plan following a backlash from ranchers opposed to restoring the animals to parts of their historical habitat.
     Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener told The Associated Press Wednesday that a pilot project to restore a small herd of 50 to 100 bison is a potential first step.
     That compares with an earlier proposal that would have established a new herd of roughly 1,000 bison as a way to help preserve the animals' genetics.
     Hagener says he hopes to compile a range of new alternatives before the Legislature meets in January. Timing on a final decision is uncertain.
     State officials last week cancelled a bison meeting in Lewistown after ranchers pledged to protest the event.
     Group sues to reclassify Montana bear population
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A conservation group is suing the federal government for failing to reclassify a small population of grizzly bears as endangered.
     The estimated 42 Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears in northwestern Montana are considered a threatened species.
     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year issued a decision that said changing the bears' status from threatened to endangered was warranted but precluded by higher-priority species.
     The Alliance for the Wild Rockies says in its lawsuit filed Tuesday the population needs to be at least 100 to be considered viable.
     The group says an endangered species classification would require federal officials to designate critical habitat for the bears to aid with their recovery.
     The lawsuit argues the "endangered-but-precluded" designation is a loophole that allows federal officials to delay their obligations.
     Montana man will head Iowa schools for deaf, blind
     COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Board of Regents has named a Montana man as superintendent of the state's schools for the deaf and sight impaired.
     The regents announced Wednesday the board had selected Steven J. Gettel to head the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton.
     Gettel is currently superintendent of the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. He's been in that position since 2001.
     He will replace Patrick Clancy, who announced his resignation last December.