- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Independent Record, Dec. 11, on medical marijuana:

Montana legislators have a right and a responsibility to review the state laws on the books and make the adjustments necessary to avoid any unintended consequences.

And when they inevitably turn their attention to the medicinal marijuana initiative approved by voters this fall, they must put aside their personal and political agendas and focus on the will of their constituents.

Some argue that the Legislature has no business changing a law approved by the people. But it’s important to keep in mind that voters only had two options on Initiative 182: Approve it and give legitimate marijuana patients the relief they need, or deny it and let them suffer.

The people of Montana had no say in whether to include the many provisions that come with I-182. The ballot language was written by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is only one of many groups affected by the new law.

Essentially, Montanans have decided the medical marijuana initiative will do more good than harm. Now it’s time for the Legislature to determine exactly which parts of that law they wanted - as well as what they didn’t.

Several state lawmakers are already lining up bills relating to the medical marijuana debate. And before that process begins, we want to remind them that Montanans will not allow the government to prevent legitimate medical marijuana patients from accessing their medicine.

As early as 2004, Montanans approved by a margin of 62 percent a measure allowing the production, possession and use of marijuana by patients with debilitating medical conditions. The 2011 Legislature then replaced that measure with one that limited each marijuana provider to three patients, however, which cut off access to 93 percent of those patients when the bill finally took effect in August of this year.

It only took three months for Montana voters to reverse those restrictions through I-182, which passed by a margin of 57 percent. And we have no doubt they will do it again if the Legislature attempts to destroy the state’s medical marijuana program like it did in 2011.

The people of Montana did what they needed to do to keep the state’s medical marijuana program intact. Now we need our legislators from both parties and both houses to work with them to ensure it is implemented and maintained in a safe, fair and responsible way.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2hwlcib


The Montana Standard, Dec. 8, on the geese that landed in Butte’s Berkeley Pit:

When ten thousand snow geese alighted on fifty billion gallons of poisoned water in the Berkeley Pit this week, it was bound to be an avian tragedy. Despite the best efforts of Montana Resources personnel, hundreds of the geese are likely to die.

But it was much more than that.

It was a graphic demonstration of just how far we haven’t come. Of the dramatic progress that hasn’t happened in Butte’s cleanup since 1995, the last time hundreds of bird mortalities occurred in the pit.

At that time, the water level in the pit, contaminated with copper, arsenic, zinc, cadmium, and sulfuric acid, was around 5,100 feet above sea level. Now it’s 5,355 feet, filling at a rate of more than two and a half million gallons a day, well on its way to the critical level of 5,410 feet.

Never fear, we’re told. Everything’s going according to plan. Perhaps so - but is it the right plan? Or is it just one more example of an EPA/ARCO plan that’s not the best but considered good enough for Butte? Another plan, like “waste in place,” that leaves this city at risk in the interest of not overly stressing ARCO’s checkbook?

The larger the toxic stew in the pit, the larger the ladle needed. And Horseshoe Bend, barely tested at the substantial capacity needed, isn’t the answer as currently configured.

If the federal Fish and Wildlife Service decides to levy fines for this week’s debacle - which could be as high as $5,000 per dead goose - the target should not be Montana Resources, which did absolutely everything it could. Perhaps the feds could fine themselves, for EPA’s complicity with ARCO.

More and more, the federal Superfund litigation labeled U.S. v. ARCO seems to be U.S. and ARCO v. Butte. When was the last time the Feds put any real pressure on ARCO?

So, two decades later, poison and death are what make headlines in Butte once again. Someday, Butte needs to make different headlines. Headlines proclaiming a reclaimed and restored Upper Silver Bow Creek. And headlines proclaiming a real cleanup solution for the pit. Not at a level some federal bureaucrat deems “good enough for Butte,” but a real, world-class, long-term solution that does not leave a toxic nightmare as the central feature of this wonderful and wronged place.

To accomplish this, this community must continue to take the feds by the scruff of the neck and demand that they do their jobs.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2g9xVaj


The Missoulian, Dec. 11, on transparency in the courtroom:

It boggles the mind that justice court proceedings in Missoula are not recorded in any way.

At best, the lack of a record means everyone involved must rely on memory, leaving the door open to misinterpretation and confusion. Worse, the proceedings may need to be revisited or even duplicated. Worse still, it leaves the court vulnerable to charges of injustice, with no recorded evidence to prove otherwise.

It’s really not that complicated. It’s time for the court to start recording its proceedings, as is done in municipal and district courts. But unlike those courts of record, justice courts in Montana need not be presided over by an expert with a law degree or license - any more than we would require members of a jury to hold a law degree as well.

Missoula County has two justices of the peace, each elected to four-year terms. Their office follows the rules set out under the state Constitution and Montana Code Annotated, and has limited jurisdiction over certain traffic, civil and criminal matters, including serious felony cases.

The local justice court “administers criminal probable cause reviews, initial appearances on felony charges, misdemeanor arraignments, preliminary hearings and trials for misdemeanor and traffic cases,” according to Missoula County. A justice of the peace will set bail and determine conditions for release for those accused of felony crimes. So it only seems reasonable, in the interest of ensuring justice, to keep sort some record of those bail amounts and conditions.

It would have saved a lot of headache for those involved in Joseph Counts’ case. A little over a year ago, a Missoula County Justice Court proceeding took place concerning Grizzly football player Joey Counts, who was arrested along with fellow Griz teammates John Schmaing and Kendrick Van Ackeren, and fellow University of Montana students Courtney Reep and Maclain Tomlinson, at a Pattee Canyon residence in the early morning hours after a 9-1-1 call was made to report a suspected burglary.

Counts and his co-defendants received apparently conflicting sentences, leading to a disagreement that depended on the memories of those who attended Counts’ proceeding in justice court. Briefly, the suggestion was floated to call everyone back into the court to recount their year-old recollections as best they could. Luckily, the judge issued an order in the case that precluded this option.

It shouldn’t have even been an issue. It is an unreasonable waste of time and court resources to essentially duplicate a proceeding.

Justice courts have had the legal authority to record proceedings since the Legislature officially granted it in 2003. Missoula County should hasten to finally take advantage of this ability.

Even for misdemeanors and civil matters, but especially in felony cases, justices must require that their decisions, and the legal evidence and arguments on which they are based, however limited, be “on the record.”

And for the record, doing so need not necessarily mean that justices of the peace must be required to have a law degree, as some have argued. In fact, past legislative sessions have weathered repeated attempts to require that justices of the peace who preside over a court of record be attorneys. Each time, these measures have died justifiable deaths early in the legislative process.

In Montana, justices of the peace are elected by voters who are perfectly capable of determining whether candidates are qualified for the job. And justice court candidates often come with some related experience or understanding of the law.

Missoula County’s Justice of the Peace I, Marie Andersen, does happen to have a law degree, in addition to extensive courtroom experience. She was appointed an assistant municipal judge and served as a substitute justice of the peace before winning election in 2014.

Justice of the Peace II, Landee Holloway, on the other hand, has a degree in criminology with a minor in psychology. She worked for the Montana Department of Corrections as a probation and parole officer for more than 20 years before being appointed by the Missoula County Commissioners to fill the seat left by retiring Justice Karen Orzech. Voters elected Holloway to remain on the bench this past Election Day.

A justice with a law degree is not necessary to ensure justice is carried out in justice court; however, lawyers still play a critical role, which is why defendants have a legal right to representation by an attorney. Nevertheless, should any legal oversight or error occur, the appeals process guarantees that the case will be studied by a judge who does have a law degree. A review of the lower court’s records should be sufficient for a judge to determine whether an appeal has merit. But that is possible only if such a record exists.

This is not merely the opinion of this editorial board, none of the members of which have ever even attempted to pass the bar. It is also an opinion shared by the members of the Montana Supreme Court, who had occasion earlier this year to consider the question of whether defendants have a right to a trial presided over by a judge who is also a lawyer, and ruled that there is no such “fundamental and essential ” right.

“We find no basis upon which to conclude that properly trained non-lawyer judges are incapable of making factual determinations or exercising discretion appropriately, or that a license to practice law would improve their ability to do so,” Justice Beth Baker wrote in the court’s opinion.

That sounds reasonable and just - and comes from an elected justice who does, in fact, have a law degree.

We call on Missoula’s justice court judges to request a recording system in their courts. Perhaps they can adopt a system similar to that used by municipal and district courts. If not, it might be helpful to note that good-quality audio recorder can be bought at Best Buy for less than 50 bucks.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2gyOWWT


Billings Gazette, Dec. 11, on funding career and technical education:

If you haven’t visited the Billings Career Center lately, you haven’t seen how this unique high school has grown to serve nearly 900 students, most of whom attend Senior, Skyview or West part of the day. The school on Central Avenue is serving about 250 more students this year than last.

-Dual-credit classes have been added and now total 13. Welding students can earn nearly a full semester of college credit before high school graduation. One metal fabrication class is building locker parts for NASA.

-Engineering and biomedical classes that opened to sophomores last year now offer four years of study, so freshmen were able to start enrolling in August. A new EMT class trains high school seniors to become state certified.

-Virtually every class is full with students excited by the hands-on learning and real world experience they can get at the Career Center.

Last week, about 20 Billings business people and three lawmakers got a look at changes that Billings Public Schools has made in career and technical education in collaboration with local business partners and advisers. Thanks to Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, and Reps.-elect Sue Vinton and Jimmy Patelis, both Billings Republicans, for participating in the legislative forum. Lawmakers who weren’t at the Career Center still need to know what’s happening with career and technical education.

“This is not the CTE of the olden days,” said Greta Besch Moen, school board chairwoman. “It’s is a vast array of programming . that creates lifelong learners.”

Students who complete two or more CTE classes are much less likely to drop out of high school than other students. The graduation rate for Montana CTE students is nearly 98 percent, compared with a rate of just over 91 percent for all students. CTE includes computer, business and consumer science courses at Senior, Skyview and West.

Cost is a major challenge for expanding CTE and staying up to date. Classes must meet industry and professional standards for safety and instructors. A school can’t simply cram more students into a class.

The 2015 Legislature increased CTE funding by $1 million per year to be shared by 153 high school districts statewide. The funding boost doubled the amount Montana had been spending. It was proposed in a bill sponsored by Rep. Don Jones, R-Billings, who teamed up with Billings Superintendent Terry Bouck to move Montana’s CTE investment a bit closer to that of our neighbor states.

In a letter to lawmakers before the 2015 session, Bouck noted that Montana had by far the lowest CTE funding in an eight-state region at $22 per student. Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah have been allocating well over $200 per student. North Dakota spent over $400 and Idaho nearly $600. Washington spent $1,166 per student on CTE in 2012.

Bullock’s budget proposes level funding in CTE for the upcoming biennium. The Billings school board has voted to request that the 2017 Legislature increase statewide CTE support by $1 million in each year of the 2018-2019 biennium.

This incremental increase can be justified by the payoff already seen from CTE over the past two years. Students are learning what they need to know to meet Montana’s growing labor force demands.

Bouck plans to discuss CTE funding this week with Jones and Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, who will be vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The budget is tight,” Jones told The Gazette by phone from Helena last week. “It’s going to be pretty tough to get more money for CTE, but we might be able to do it.” Jones will chair the joint subcommittee on education appropriations.

We encourage Montana lawmakers to support CTE funding, and call on Billings area legislators to again be leaders. At the Career Center, we can see how well CTE works.

Growth and retirements will create 32,500 job openings in Yellowstone County within the next 10 years, according to Brittney Souza of Billings Works at Big Sky Economic Development. Let’s make sure today’s students are ready for those jobs.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2gJEL59

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