Jan. 31 Regional News Briefs

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Montana lawmakers consider raising state park fees

HELENA (AP) — A pair of bills under consideration by Montana lawmakers would make changes in a $6 fee used to help fund state parks and trails. The Independent Record reports Republican Sen. Terry Gauthier, of Helena, is proposing Senate Bill 24, which would raise the fee to $9. Money would go for state parks and fishing access sites along with creating a new funding stream for Virginia City and Nevada City. Money also would create a new state trail and recreational facility grant program. Republican Sen. Roger Webb, of Billings, is sponsoring Senate Bill 102, which would increase the fee to $25, but change it from an opt-out at the time of vehicle registration, to an opt-in. Webb says not everyone is aware they can opt out of paying the fee.

Montana power plant ash pond cleanup could cost $700M

BILLINGS (AP) — The Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates that cleaning up three coal ash ponds at the Colstrip power plant will cost as much as $700 million. The numbers presented in a memo to the state House Energy Committee are the first estimates from the agency on the cost of cleaning up all three ponds that are fed by the power plant, which is slated for closure. The Billings Gazette reports that the cleanup price could increase if additional steps are needed. Energy Committee Chairman Dan Zolnikov, of Billings, says the biggest question is who will pay the cost. Some of that burden will fall on utility customers. DEQ says it holds $80 million to pay for approved portions of the cleanup in three pond areas.

Montana man gets 10 years in prison for woman’s death

POLSON (AP) — A Montana man accused of throwing a woman to her death from a moving vehicle has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Missoulian reports 23-year-old Joseph Parizeau was sentenced Wednesday after previously entering an Alford plea to criminal endangerment, acknowledging prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him but not admitting guilt. Prosecutors say Parizeau threw 24-year-old Cassandra Harris from a truck near McDonald Lake in northwest Montana last June. She was found several hours later and died at a hospital. Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher originally charged Parizeau with negligent homicide and witness tampering for allegedly trying to keep three other companions that night quiet. But he amended the charges because he was concerned the medical evidence and witness testimony wasn’t enough to secure a conviction.

Montana considers bills to address missing Native women

HELENA (AP) — Montana lawmakers are considering legislation meant to address what officials call the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. The Great Falls Tribune reports that supporters of the bills testified for hours before a legislative panel on Wednesday then held a rally in the Capitol rotunda. One measure would appropriate $100,000 a year to the state Department of Justice to hire a missing persons specialist who would work with local, state, federal and tribal law-enforcement authorities. Members of the legislative Indian Caucus say that bill, called Hanna’s Act, would be the first step in ensuring that missing Native women don’t fall through the cracks of the legal system. The bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Rae Peppers of Lame Deer is in remembrance of Hanna Harris, a Lame Deer woman killed in 2013 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

Federal agency sued over wildlife killings in Wyoming

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Conservation groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program that kills animals to protect crops, livestock and other wildlife in Wyoming. The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports that the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Wyoming contends the agency’s program relies on outdated environmental analyses. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. The lawsuit says that the Wildlife Service killed 20,604 animals in the state in 2017. It says that was a 325 percent jump from the animals that were killed when agency program plans were last approved in 1996.

Wyoming Medicaid expansion bill passes committee

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A state legislative committee has recommended a bill that would expand Medicaid in Wyoming. The Casper Star-Tribune reports the House Committee on Labor, Health and Social Services voted 6-3 Wednesday to send the proposal to the full House of Representatives for more debate. The vote marked a small victory for medical associations across the state as well as a bipartisan coalition of supporters who have long pushed for expansion. Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Andy Schwartz, of Jackson, House Bill 244 would result in 27,000 Wyoming residents enrolling in health insurance while taking a significant chunk out of $130 million in uncompensated medical costs absorbed by the state’s care providers. The legislation also includes work requirements. Medical organizations, including the Wyoming Hospital Association and the Wyoming Medical Society, support the bill.