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Helena News with Jay Scott


~~BALLOT INITIATIVE

Fiscal impact of ballot initiative questioned

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Attorney General Tim Fox is asking the state Supreme Court to order a new fiscal note for a ballot initiative that seeks to expand the Medicaid program in Montana.

Fox says he agrees with opponents that the fiscal note prepared by the state budget director wrongly includes $100 million in federal revenue unrelated to the implementation of Initiative 170.

Gov. Steve Bullock says the purpose of the Healthy Montana Initiative is to "fully utilize available federal funds to provide health coverage for uninsured Montanans." He said because the initiative calls for the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, the fiscal note must include all the federal funding for medical care.

The Secretary of State approved the ballot initiative last month and supporters have been gathering signatures.

Man arrest for touching 14 year olds

HELENA (KBLL) -- A  Helena man was arrested Sunday after two minor females reported that he had been touching them inappropriately since September 2013.
Court records say 38-year-old Andrew Mark Wright admitted to touching the girls , both of whom are  less than 14 years old.
The touching began in September 2013, the affidavit said, and continued until on or about April 9.


Bullock seeks disaster declaration over flooding
 
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock is asking President Barack Obama to issue a federal disaster declaration for Montana due to widespread flooding and ice jams last month.
 
     Bullock's letter, dated Friday, explains that unusually high amounts of precipitation fell over the winter and cold weather allowed thick ice to develop on rivers and streams so when the snow melted quickly in early March, it caused ice jams and flooding.
 
     Bullock says the flooding caused widespread damage to roads, culverts, bridges and public buildings. He says the cost of responding to the recent flooding have exceeded the state's resources.
 
     Fifteen counties declared an emergency or a disaster; seven towns declared an emergency while the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Blackfeet reservations also sought assistance.
 
     Federal funds are not available to pay for private property damage.
 

Spring snowstorm hits parts of Montana

     BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A spring snowstorm is expected to dump up to 2 feet snow in parts of southern Montana.
 
     The National Weather Service has issued winter storm warnings for an area that includes Red Lodge, Cooke City and Roscoe.
 
     The heaviest snow is expected to fall late Saturday and into Sunday in the mountains with 6 to 10 inches possible in the lower elevations.
 
     A winter weather advisory has been posted for the area including the cities of Helena, Great Falls, Livingston and West Yellowstone.

We have the current weather on our weather page here, and on the air every 30 minutes with John Weatherby.

Charges filed of animal cruelty against Townsend pair

TOWNSEND (KBLL) -- A Townsend couple has each been charged with 35 counts of animal cruelty in connection with a March 11 raid of the facility.

Warrants have been issued for both Dalene Ann Rindal and Thomas William Jessberger, owners of Rocky Acres Horse Rescue in Townsend, after the seizure of 28 horses, five goats and a donkey from their property.

According to an affidavit, a search of their property found moldy hay and insufficient shelter for the animals housed at the property on Antelope Road.

The body of a dead horse found on the property  was analysed, and "she had a bone marrow fat content of .2 percent while the average fat content for bone marrow in horses is 81.7 percent,” according to court filings.
Those filings also say that both Rindal and Jessberger have vacated the property and have put it on the market for sale, prompting their arrest Friday to prevent flight.

They are scheduled to appear before District Court Judge James Reynolds Friday, April 18, at 9:30 a.m.

Titan Machinery to close 8 stores across US

     WEST FARGO, N.D. (AP/KBLL) - Titan Machinery says it is closing eight construction stores across the country.
 
     The company based in West Fargo, N.D., on Thursday cited a slow recovery in construction sector among the reasons for the move, which will leave 128 people unemployed.

One of the stores being shuttered is in Helena. The others are in Bozeman and Big Sky, plus Clear Lake and Oskaloosa, Iowa; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and  Rosemount, Minn. All locations will cease operations by the end of April.
 
     The company sells and rents agriculture and construction equipment. CEO David Meyer says the decision will help the company improve its pre-tax profits.
 
     The company says affected employees will receive benefits and severance package and the option to apply for jobs at nearby stores.  Titan Machinery will continue to operate 96 stores in the U.S.

    TREASURER-EMBEZZLEMENT
 
     State investigating Jefferson County embezzlement
 
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Jefferson County officials say an audit found just over $104,000 missing from the treasurer's office in fiscal year 2013.
 
     Sheriff Craig Doolittle told The Montana Standard he has asked the state Justice Department to investigate. Treasurer Patty O'Neill has resigned. No charges have been filed.
 
     Justice Department spokeswoman Anastasia Burton confirmed Wednesday that the Division of Criminal Investigation was asked to investigate and determine if any money was taken.


Coin theft arrest

HELENA (KBLL) -- A Helena man has been arrested and charged with stealing $11,000 in silver coins from Wayne Miller's Coin Shop.

According to court filings, Steven Darrell DuBois admitted to stealing the coins just after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. Charging documents say surveillance video shows his brother, William Lawrence, distracting the clerk while DuBois took the box of coins.

When officers attempted to arrest DuBois at his residence, he fled and was arrested after about 40 minutes of persuit,

He is charged with one count of felony theft and one count of felony obstructing a police officer.


LEGISLATURE-POLITICAL PRACTICES

Lawmakers weigh elections cop's selection, powers

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — State lawmakers are considering changing the way the person who polices their conduct in election campaigns is chosen.

A committee voted Wednesday to draft legislation that would create a panel to choose commissioner of political practice nominees for the governor to appoint.

Currently, the governor does not have to pick any of the candidates recommended by legislative leaders, but his appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.

The Senate hasn't confirmed an appointee since 2010, leading to a revolving door of short-term commissioners and accusations the appointments are driven by partisan politics.

State Administration and Veterans' Affairs Interim Committee chairwoman Dee Brown says the panel is looking to improve the commissioner's credibility and effectiveness.

Other suggestions include replacing the commissioner with a full commission and watering down his powers.

CHARTER-PROPERTY TAXES

Charter seeks property tax reduction

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Charter Communications wants to take its tax rate battle with the state Revenue Department to the voters.

The cable television, Internet and telephone company is proposing a state ballot measure that would block a state tax increase.

The  ballot measure is intended to reverse a Montana Supreme Court decision in December. It upheld a state Revenue Department decision to tax all of Charter's property in the state under the 6 percent rate that applies to telecommunication services. Its predecessor, Bresnan Communications, paid part of its taxes under the 3 percent rate that applies to cable television systems.

Attorney General Tim Fox is reviewing the ballot proposal before the company can begin gathering signatures.


Forest Service approves Ten Mile plan

HELENA (KBLL) -- Officials at Helena National Forest have approved the Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir project, after finding the project would have "no significant impact. "

The plan is to use a combination of tree removal and prescribed burns to thin out vegetation on  490 acres of Helena National Forest land  in the Upper Tenmile Watershed, around the flume and reservoir that the source for four/fifths of Helena's drinking water. Officials want to protect the area from wildfires.

The project could take up to 8 years, because it requires very specific weather and fuel conditions in order to burn.

Kathy Bushnell, the public affairs officer for the Helena National Forest, says "We do want to begin as soon as possible."

The U.S. Forest Service has designated $800,000 for wildfire mitigation for the watershed, and Bushnell said a portion of that will be used on the flume and reservoir project.

~~     SUPREME COURT NOMINEES
 
     Panel nominates 4 for Supreme Court seat
 
     HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The state's Judicial Nomination Commission has submitted the names of three attorneys and a judge to Gov. Steve Bullock as candidates for a Montana Supreme Court vacancy.
 
     The commission on Tuesday nominated attorneys Elizabeth Brennan of Missoula, Amy Eddy of Kalispell and Patrick Watt of Great Falls, along with Montana Workers' Compensation Court Judge Jim Shea of Helena.
 
     Bullock must make an appointment within 30 days after receiving the nominees.
 
     He is filling the seat vacated by Brian Morris, who resigned to become a U.S. District judge.
 
     The person Bullock chooses will take a place on the high court but must be confirmed by voters in the 2016 elections.
 
     The candidate elected then will serve until 2021.

Montana News and Sports


 TRIBAL THEFT
 
     May 1 trial set in Rocky Boy embezzlement case
 
     (Information in the following story is from: Havre Daily News, http://www.havredailynews.com)
 
     HAVRE, Mont. (AP) - A federal judge has set a May 1 trial date in the embezzlement case against former Rocky Boy Indian Reservation health clinic director Fawn Tadios.
 
     The Havre Daily News reports the judge set the date during a hearing on Monday.
 
     Tadios faces two counts of theft. Prosecutors allege she embezzled more than $50,000 from the clinic to visit her husband in an out-of-state prison.
 
     The judge heard arguments Monday on Tadios' motion asking for details of the charges and questioning the federal court's jurisdiction. Tadios said she is a citizen of the Chippewa Cree tribe, not the United States.
 
     She also complained she is being forced to represent