Mar. 13 Montana News Briefs

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Parents ask Supreme Court to take up Montana tax credit case

HELENA (AP) — Three Montana parents are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a state court’s decision to end a tax credit program for private school scholarships because it would have benefited religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court in December ruled the program giving tax credits of up to $150 for scholarship donations violated the state constitution prohibition of direct or indirect aid to religious schools. The parents represented by the Institute for Justice filed their petition to the nation’s high court on Monday. They say the justices should take up the case to resolve once and for all whether government can bar religious options in student-aid programs. Institute for Justice attorneys say the Montana court decision has deepened the split on whether that is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s religion freedom and equal protection clauses.

Montana product Jessie Royer third in home stretch of Iditarod

WHITE MOUNTAIN, Alaska -- Longtime Montana resident Jessie Royer is poised for her highest finish yet in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Royer pulled into the eight-hour mandatory layover at White Mountain in third place, behind only Peter Kaiser of Bethel, Alaska, and Joar Lefseth Ulsom of Norway. She was a little more than four hours behind both but as of 10 p.m. (MDT) was the only musher in White Mountain, which is 77 miles from the 998-mile race’s finish line under the burled arch in Nome. The only remaining checkpoint is at Safety, 55 miles west of White Mountain. Royer’s highest finish in her 16 Iditarods is fourth, in 2015. Royer, who grew up near Ennis and has lived in Philipsburg, White Sulphur Springs and Darby as well, has finished in the top 10 five times. She owns the second-fastest time ever accomplished by a woman at the Iditarod. The Idaho native now splits her time between Ennis, where her parents live, and a home outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. The only other Montanan in the race, Brent Bruggeman of Great Falls, dropped out.

Yellowstone, water district to meet over sewage claims

GARDINER (AP) — Officials from Yellowstone National Park and a Montana water district have scheduled a settlement conference over claims of excessive arsenic from the park’s sewage. The Billings Gazette reports that talks are scheduled for May 9 between the park and the Gardiner-Park County Water and Sewer District with the goal of keeping a lawsuit from reaching trial. A 2016 suit filed by the district says the park did not address complaints that heightened arsenic in Gardiner’s sewage ponds resulted from faulty manholes or pipes delivering wastewater from the park’s headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs in Wyoming. Wastewater tests found the park’s arsenic levels were 40 times higher than those from Gardiner. Arsenic is prevalent in Yellowstone’s thermal pools and geysers and ingestion in large quantities can cause various ailments.

Senate endorses moving oversight of youth programs

HELENA (AP) — The Montana Senate has endorsed a bill to give the state health department oversight of private residential programs for troubled children. Tuesday’s 34-15 vote comes after a series by the Missoulian that found multiple problems with programs for children dealing with emotional and behavioral problems. The programs are now overseen by the Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Program board. Three of the five board members own or run programs. Democratic Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula says the board hasn’t sanctioned any program over the last 12 years, despite receiving 58 complaints in that time. Her bill would give oversight to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services’ Quality Assurance Division. The Senate must take a final vote before the bill goes to the House.

Montana school officials hold hearing on autism criteria

HELENA (AP) — Montana public education officials are holding a public hearing on proposed changes to the criteria for identifying students with autism. The hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Office in Public Instruction in Helena gives the public a chance to comment on the proposal that would create a checklist of characteristics that officials say incorporate the latest knowledge about the developmental disability. Children would have to meet at least 14 of the 30 criteria to be identified as having autism and be eligible for specialized individual education programs under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. OPI officials say the change is being made to better identify students with autism. Disability Rights Montana officials are concerned that the criteria would create a restrictive system that would exclude many children who need the services.