Jan. 31 Regional News Briefs

Montana man, 23, pleads guilty in baby’s death

BOZEMAN (AP) — A man accused of deliberate homicide in the death of a 5-month-old baby has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, acknowledging he delayed calling for help when the baby was in distress.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Tuesday that 23-year-old Branden Moss’ plea comes about a week before he had been scheduled to go to trial.

Moss pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the 2015 death of Sethryen Wollschlager. He told investigators he was trying to burp Sethryen because he was crying when the baby stiffened up and passed out. Moss acknowledged that he should have called 911 after Sethryen passed out.

Both the prosecution and Moss’ defense team are recommending Moss be sentenced to a completely suspended 15-year sentence to the Montana Department of Corrections.

Congressman Greg Gianforte to advise GOP aides

DENVER (AP) — Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte will advise a group of Republican aides on how to hire good personnel nine months after he assaulted a reporter and his campaign spokesman made false statements about the attack. Gianforte, a Republican, is scheduled to make the presentation on Feb. 13 in Washington to a Republican “communicators” group.

The regular gathering of GOP press aides is being expanded to include congressional legislative directors and chiefs of staff so they can hear advice from Gianforte, a former technology entrepreneur who was first elected to Congress last year.

“As someone who has built two highly successful companies from the ground up, Congressman Gianforte has valuable insight on this subject and we appreciate his willingness to share his expertise,” said Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which organized the event.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for body-slamming reporter Ben Jacobs of the Guardian the night before the state’s special election. His campaign spokesman at the time falsely accused Jacobs of starting the violence. Gianforte also falsely told police that Jacobs grabbed him.

Montana appeals federal agency’s denial for more aid

MISSOULA (AP) — Montana is appealing the federal government’s denial to a request to help the state cover some of the $44 million in firefighting costs accumulated at the end of last summer.

Montana Public Radio reports the Federal Emergency Management Agency last month denied Gov. Steve Bullock’s request for additional disaster relief for the 2017 fire season.

The state’s appeal last week now asks for help in covering the nearly $15 million in firefighting costs from early September.

Montana Disaster and Emergency Services administrator Delila Bruno says the appeal ties the state’s request to a severe weather event, which falls more in line with the typical requests for FEMA. Bruno says the state should hear from FEMA about the appeal in at least a month.

Social workers being added to public defenders’ offices

BILLINGS (AP) — The state is implementing a program aimed at reducing the social and economic stresses that can lead people to commit crimes.

A social worker has been added to the public defender’s office in Missoula with the goal of directing clients charged with low-level theft to available community services. The idea is that once the clients receive mental health evaluations, chemical dependency or other medical treatment or assistance with housing they will be less likely to shoplift.

The Billings Gazette reports a similar pilot project in Bozeman will focus on child abuse and neglect cases. Billings and Kalispell will also start pilot projects next month as part of a package of criminal justice reform legislation.

Great Falls recently received a new social worker to aid with child abuse and neglect cases.

PSC reduces NorthWestern Energy rates by $3.5M

HELENA (AP) — The Public Service Commission has reduced NorthWestern Energy’s electrical rates by about $3.5 million for residential and business customers.
The commission found those customers paid an unfair share of the utility’s property taxes in 2017. Commissioner Travis Kavulla of Great Falls said Tuesday that under the new calculations, NorthWestern’s taxes will be passed on to customers based on their actual use of the electric transmission system. With that change and others affecting allocation of taxes, the typical residential customer will see a 14 cent reduction in their monthly electrical bills this year.