PRIVATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS
Group promises 700 private school scholarships
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A group that advocates for children to be able to choose private education says it will offer 700 scholarships at 58 private schools this fall.
ACE Montana announced the scholarships Thursday. The group offers scholarships of up to $2,000 per pupil annually for kindergarten through eighth grade and $3,000 a year for high school.
The scholarships are funded by Montana business interests and the Gianforte Family Foundation.
ACE Montana is an offshoot of Denver-based ACE Scholarships.
It also is providing $100,000 in funding to three private schools serving American Indian communities.
MONTANA REVENUE FORECAST
Lawmakers compromise on revenue estimate
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana legislative committee has reached a compromise on the state's revenue estimate through June 2017.
The Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee met Thursday to make an official estimate of the state's tax and investment income, which will be used as a basis for the state budget lawmakers will consider during the 2015 legislative session.
Gov. Steve Bullock's budget office estimated total revenues at $6.871 billion, which was $295 million more than the estimate by the Legislative Fiscal Division.
Lee Newspapers of Montana reports committee members voted 8-4 Thursday on a compromise that sets recommended spending of $6.576 billion, or $141 million more than the Legislative Fiscal Divisions numbers.
Earlier this week, Bullock announced the state saw record general fund revenue collections from July through September.
CHIPPEWA CREE ELECTION
Tribal appeals court upholds 2013 election
(Information in the following story is from: Havre Daily News, http://www.havredailynews.com)
HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — The chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe — who was suspended more than 18 months ago and later re-elected — was sworn in to office Thursday afternoon.
The tribal council said it suspended Ken Blatt St. Marks in March 2013 for neglect of his duties and misconduct, but St. Marks said the real reason was his cooperation with a federal corruption investigation.
St. Marks received 453 votes in a July 2013 special election compared to 315 for Richard Morsette. However, the tribe's election board invalidated the results because 12 prison inmates cast their votes in a van and may not have used the proper identification.
The Havre Daily News reports the tribal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a tribal court ruling that said even if those 12 votes were thrown out, St. Marks still would have won.
Report: Bird needs 3-mile buffer from drilling
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A government study with significant implications for the U.S. energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms and solar projects.
Friday's finding from the U.S. Geological Survey comes as the Obama administration weighs greater protections for greater sage grouse.
The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 Western states. Its population dropped sharply in recent decades due to disease, pressure from the energy industry, wildfires and other factors.
State and federal officials are scrambling to come up with conservation measures to protect the bird ahead of a court-ordered September 2015 decision on protections.
A related bird, the Gunnison sage grouse of Utah and Colorado, received federal protection as a threatened species on Nov. 12.
BIG FOOTBALL WEEKEND
Montana's big football weekend includes state championships, Cat-Griz
It's a big football weekend in Montana, with five high school state championships, the Cat-Griz game and Carroll College's first-round game in the NAIA playoffs.
The action starts at 7 p.m. Friday in Kalispell where Great Falls Russell takes on top-ranked and unbeaten Glacier High for the Class AA crown.
On Saturday, top-ranked Carroll hosts Valley City State of North Dakota in an NAIA playoff game that kicks off at noon.
Four high school title games kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday with Dillon at Butte Central in Class A, Townsend at Huntley Project in Class B, Chinook at Wibaux in Class C 8-Man and Westby-Grenora at Geraldine-Highwood and Class C 6-man.
The finale is the 114th meeting of the Bobcats and the Grizzlies in Missoula. Kickoff is at 3:15 p.m.
DEATH SENTENCE OVERTURNED
Judge overturns death penalty for Wyoming inmate
UNDATED (AP) -- A federal judge has overturned the death penalty of Dale Wayne Eaton, Wyoming's lone death row inmate.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne said Thursday that Eaton had not been properly represented by his defense lawyers during his trial.
The judge says Wyoming can grant a new sentencing proceeding for Eaton within 120 days or keep him locked up for life without parole.
The 69-year-old Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004 in state court for the 1988 rape and murder of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana.
His lawyers appealed to a federal judge after the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the death sentence.
The lawyers argued that Eaton's state defense team had failed to present information about his intelligence and the abuse he suffered as a child to give jurors reason to consider sparing his life.
Montana gay couples exchange vows after ban tossed
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Gay couples have begun exchanging vows at county courthouses in Montana a day after a federal judge threw out the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Among the first were Randi Paul and Jill Houk of Billings. They wed Thursday in a hallway at the Yellowstone County Courthouse just minutes after paying $53 for a marriage license.
Universal Life Church minister Jeffrey Hill officiated over the brief ceremony. He says the event marked a triumph of love over law.
Paul says the couple considered getting married in another state, and are relieved they can now do so in her home state.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox plans to appeal Wednesday's ruling from U.S. District Judge Brian Morris that struck down the state ban.
21 Indian reservations joining buyback program
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The federal government is doubling the number of American Indian communities involved in a $1.9 billion tribal lands consolidation program.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor announced Thursday that 21 Indian communities in 12 states will join the land buyback program by 2017.
That brings the number of locations in the program to 42.
The buyback program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Montana, who died in 2011. The lawsuit claimed Interior Department officials mismanaged trust money held by the government for hundreds of thousands of Indian landowners.
Connor says in its first year, $225 million was paid to individual Native Americans for restoring the equivalent of 375,000 acres to tribal governments.
EXCHANGE STUDENT SHOT
Judge rejects 3rd change-of-venue request
(Information in the following story is from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A state judge has denied a third request for a change-of-venue for the trial of a Missoula man charged with shooting a German exchange student in his garage in April.
Defense attorneys sought the change after the Missoulian published stories last week that reported Markus Kaarma had a prior criminal record in Seattle and Missoula and that District Judge Ed McLean had ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Kaarma.
McLean said if it appears during jury selection that an impartial jury cannot be seated, he would consider moving the deliberate homicide trial.
He also forbade attorneys from both sides from speaking with Missoulian reporters.
The Missoulian reported McLean also rejected a prosecution request to have an exchange student who witnessed the shooting testify via video from Ecuador. McLean said Robby Pazmino had to testify in person.
Man stabbed, critically injured in Billings
(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A stabbing at a Billings residence left one man hospitalized with critical injuries and another facing felony charges.
The Billings Gazette reports a man in his 40s suffered critical injuries and two women had cuts on their hands after being stabbed with a kitchen knife at a Billings residence on Wednesday evening.
Billings police Lt. Kevin Iffland says 33-year-old Edward Mitchell was arrested on suspicion of two counts of aggravated assault.
Iffland says the stabbings happened during a disturbance, but it's unknown what caused the altercation. All four people involved lived at the residence where the stabbing took place.
BILLINGS SHOOTING DEATH-ARREST
Man suspected in Billings shooting death arrested
(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — There's been an arrest in the Oct. 2 shooting death of a man whose body was found on the lawn in front of a Billings apartment building.
Big Horn County Undersheriff Mike Fuss says 28-year-old Jonathan Michael Martinez was arrested at about 3 p.m. Tuesday at his mother's house in Hardin. The county attorney's office says Martinez made an initial appearance in Justice Court on Wednesday morning on one count of deliberate homicide. He did not enter a plea.
District Court Judge Mary Jane Knisley of Billings signed a document on Monday giving prosecutors permission to charge him in the death of 36-year-old David Leroy Vallie. The order set Martinez's bond at $250,000.
The Billings Gazette reports prosecutors say they have the murder weapon, witness statements along with cellphone and surveillance video evidence to support their allegations.
Deferred sentence for helping escaped rape suspect
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A 20-year-old Bozeman man has been given a three-year deferred sentence for helping hide an escaped rape suspect from law enforcement, despite knowing the man was being sought.
District Judge Holly Brown also ordered Andrew Kranker to complete 150 hours of community service. She rejected a request to waive, for a day, a probation requirement that he not drink alcohol so he could celebrate his upcoming 21st birthday.
Brown said Kranker could mark the occasion with sparkling cider.
Kranker pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice for allowing Kevin Briggs to stay at his apartment for about six hours on Feb. 1, after Briggs escaped police custody.
Briggs was arrested three weeks later in Portland, Oregon. He faces trial in February for attempted sexual intercourse without consent, aggravated assault, escape and a drug charge.