- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Missoulian, June 13, on playing safe in Montana waters:

Baking hot weather this month has brought flocks of river enthusiasts to the water once again. Last week, they could be seen floating down the Clark Fork River on inner tubes, splashing along its banks and jumping from the Madison Street pedestrian bridge.

This despite the fact that the river is running high and fast - and jumping from bridges is illegal in Missoula County.

There’s a reason why drowning deaths are most common in June, July and August, and it lies in the magnetic pull of western Montana’s cool, clear waters on hot summer days. Sadly, the vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented by following a few basic safety measures.

Residents of western Montana may think we know all these measures already, but the evidence proves otherwise. Each year, amateurs and professionals, newcomers and lifelong Montanans alike fall victim to unpredictable rivers - and unpreparedness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Montana counted 177 unintentional drowning deaths during 2003 to 2011, giving the state a rate of 2 deaths per 100,000 people; higher than the national rate of 1.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Montana Injury Prevention Program calculates that, on average, eight people drown each year in Montana’s wild waters. Drowning deaths are most common during the summer, on weekends and between the hours of 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Whatever time, day of the week or month of the year, it’s critical to take certain precautions before heading for the river:

-Wear a life jacket, and make sure it is fastened securely so that it can’t be pulled off by a strong current. Children younger than 12 years old are required by state law to wear a life jacket in any moving boat smaller than 26 feet long.

-In certain river conditions, it’s a good idea to wear a helmet as well.

-Learn to swim. Those who know how to swim stand a better chance of surviving when their craft capsizes than those who don’t.

-Learn CPR and First Aid. CPR is effective at saving the lives, and the sooner it is started, the better the outcome for the victim.

-Always supervise young children around water.

-Take a buddy, or better yet, a group - and make sure everyone stays together.

-Leave the alcohol ashore.

-Know the water and current weather conditions. Even when water levels are lower and slower, debris is constantly churning and the river ever changing.

-Leave contact information and a vehicle description with someone who isn’t going to the river so loved ones know when to expect you back home - and so authorities can locate anyone who’s overdue.

For more information about water safety, visit the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks online at https://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/safety/boating/ or https://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/safety/water/.

Additionally, a few extra measures can make everyone’s time on the water more pleasant, and help preserve the resource for future river recreationists.

Pay attention to parking signs; neighbors don’t appreciate vehicles blocking their streets, and law enforcement has better things to go than write tickets for illegally parked cars.

Make sure you’re entering the water at established put-ins. Hundreds of recreationists trampling sensitive riparian areas can do a great deal of damage, and unfortunately, it’s the kind of damage that can take many years to heal.

Leave the glass at home and pick up any trash. Each year, volunteers pull tons of garbage from local rivers - everything from blown inner tubes to empty beer cans. This pollution creates a public hazard as well as an ugly stain on Montanans’ river-loving reputation.

Each year seems to bring more people out to western Montana’s rivers, lakes and streams. If more of us make sure to show some courtesy and common sense, we can all continue to enjoy the beauty, splendor - and cool water - safely for many more years to come.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1YqIUKv

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The Billings Gazette, June 12, on a judge shortage:

In 2015, Montana’s busiest District Court logged 9,860 new cases, including criminal, civil, probate, child protection and mental health commitments. That’s 41 percent more than were filed in Yellowstone County District Court in 2011. Yet the number of judges hasn’t increased.

Montana’s Judicial Branch has a plan to ease the shortage of judges that is slowing down courts in Montana’s largest cities.

Members of the Montana Supreme Court voted unanimously last month to ask Gov. Steve Bullock to include five new district court judges in his executive budget proposal. Including an assistant, clerk and reporter for each judge, the state’s annual cost would be $1.7 million.

Montana court data, measured against national standards, show that the District Courts are in need of 21 new judges statewide, not just five. Why ask for only five?

Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath said he and the District Court Council looked at “what’s viable and what community support is available.”

Judges have been a tough sell in past legislatures.

Nowhere is the shortage more acute than in Yellowstone County. Statistically, each of our six District Court judges is carrying double the workload that a judge should be expected to have in an efficient court.

An independent workload study completed in 2014 indicated that, based on 2013 numbers, Yellowstone County needed five additional judges. With increase in case filings since 2013, our District Court now needs six additional judges. If the trend in case filings continues, Yellowstone County soon will need more than six additional judges.

The Judicial Branch budget requests just two judges for Yellowstone County, proposing that one start working in January 2018 and that the other take office in January 2019.

The other judges requested are one for Missoula/Mineral counties; one for Cascade County; and one for Flathead County.

“We just really, really need new judges,” McGrath said. “Those are the districts that have the greatest need.”

“It’s a big request,” McGrath said. “The key is getting the support from the local communities.”

With legislators and candidates focused on the Nov. 8 election, it’s time for a briefing on the District Court shortage. Having too few judges causes problems within and outside the courthouse.

By law, certain cases must receive top priority in court. Child abuse and neglect cases top the list because the lives and safety of children and their possible separation from family are at stake. The number of those cases doubled last year in our county.

Laws guarantee criminal defendants speedy trials. Yellowstone County has seen a big jump in felony cases.

That leaves civil matters, such as contract disputes, and complex business issues, which may languish for months or years awaiting a trial date in an overloaded court.

Key to adding judges is providing adequate space - a courtroom, jury room and offices. Missoula County recently remodeled its courthouse and is ready to house an additional judge and staff.

Yellowstone County commissioners are well aware that space will be needed for additional judges, especially with Commissioner Jim Reno serving as the Montana Association of Counties representative on the District Court Council. There has been discussion about converting fourth-floor office space into court space. When Yellowstone County Finance Director Kevan Bryan drew up the plan to finance jail improvements, he took into account expected costs for remodeling the courthouse for additional judges.

In the last session, the Legislature created the Judicial Redistricting Commission. That panel is chaired by Yellowstone County District Court Judge Greg Todd. The members include Rep. Nate McConnell, D-Missoula, and Sen. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre. The commission found that people in less populous counties don’t want the boundaries changed.

“Judicial redistricting is not necessary, according to legislative criteria,” Todd told The Gazette recently. “Judicial redistricting will not solve the need for more judges.”

“The biggest need is in the biggest towns,” Todd said. “The only way to alleviate that pressure is to add judges in the biggest towns.”

“Obviously, the numbers could justify asking for more, but we thought these numbers are realistic,” Todd said of the five-judge statewide request.

Bullock should make adding judges a priority in his executive budget.

Yellowstone County lawmakers and those seeking to become lawmakers in the November election need to pay attention to the judicial shortage. This is an issue that should unite Republicans and Democrats. Yellowstone County lawmakers should be leaders advocating for additional judges to improve the efficiency of the District Court.

Adequate staffing for the justice system is basic to good government. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1XVQXQN

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 10, on addressing Montana’s drug problem:

Illicit drugs and related tragedy have been in local news in recent months. Arrests have been made alleging manufacturing and distribution of heroin and methamphetamine. A young woman lost her life after ingesting a synthetic drug at a local concert venue. A Belgrade couple has been charged with distributing heroin - with a 4-month-old baby in the house.

It’s all happening against the backdrop of state Attorney General Tim Fox’s campaign to curb the illegal use of prescription opioids - a problem he says is causing hundreds of deaths in Montana each year, more than the lives lost in auto accidents. A heroin epidemic raging nationwide is beginning to take root locally. And where it’s at its worst, it is destroying communities.

It’s easy to get complacent about drug abuse. It’s not something we like to think about having anything to do with us personally. But we ignore it at our peril - and that facing our children.

Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing. Where are they spending their time and with whom? Where are they spending their money? A part-time job can give them hundreds of dollars that can get them into serious, life-threatening trouble.

And law enforcement authorities should consider carefully the efficacy of their strategies. In Gloucester, Massachusetts - a community devastated by widespread heroin use - law enforcement adopted a revolutionary new idea. Addicts there are invited to turn themselves in along with their drugs and paraphernalia without fearing arrest or prosecution. Instead they are entered into a rehab program that walks them through the detox process and puts them on the road to recovery.

And it works. Literally hundreds of addicts have turned themselves and their drugs in. Drug related crime in the community has dropped significantly. Now more than 50 other police departments around the country have adopted a similar program and more than a hundred more say they plan to do so.

Perhaps that’s something we should consider here.

What’s apparent is that we do have a drug problem that appears to be getting worse. And turning our back on it or just proceeding with business as usual exposes our families, friends and neighbors to grave risk.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1tviqMx

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Daily Inter Lake, June 12, on a new $40 million pediatric center in northwest Montana:

Kalispell Regional Heathcare is poised to add another dimension to its repertoire of health-care services in the Flathead Valley by building a $40 million pediatric center.

The 190,000-square-foot, three-story center planned directly east of the hospital will allow children in need of intensive care to be treated closer to home. Health-care officials expect services to begin on the first floor of the facility by spring 2018.

It’s an ambitious project, but Kalispell Regional Healthcare has proven time and time again it has the moxie needed to create a regional health-care system that is second to none.

It was just five years ago when work began on a $42 million surgical tower. A year and a half later that project already was nearing completion. The new 130,446-square-foot surgical services tower enabled Kalispell Regional to add new operating rooms, same-day surgery beds and other facilities.

Two years ago the hospital embarked on a $14 million expansion and upgrade of its Emergency Services Department. The capital campaign for the ER expansion has been completed, and the expanded department will be up and running by May 2017.

Philanthropic giving has been an integral part of the health-care expansion, and Kalispell Regional will tap into that generosity for the pediatric center project as well. The Flathead Valley has been supportive of the hospital ever since it began in 1910 as Kalispell General Hospital. We expect community support to be as strong as ever as the health-care corporation strives to meet the demands of a growing valley.

Beyond the bricks-and-mortar expansion, Kalispell Regional also has been on the cutting edge of adding services and programs. Consider this: since 2003 Kalispell Regional Healthcare has added a cancer treatment center, created the Winkley Women’s Center, expanded its birthing center, added the Bass Breast Center, opened the Montana Center for Wellness and Pain Management, added surgical oncology robot-assisted surgery, built the new surgical tower, launched a mobile nuclear medicine coach, added an electrophysiology lab, established the Neuroscience & Spine Institute, launched a physician residency partnership and most recently began a lung cancer screening program. The list goes on.

Also noteworthy is the recent affiliation agreement between North Valley Hospital and Kalispell Regional that aims to provide a deeper collaboration and strengthen the ability of both organizations to provide accessible and affordable health care.

And let’s not forget, because we live in scenic Northwest Montana, Kalispell Regional attracts some of the best physicians and surgeons in the world.

We can thank our lucky stars we have a regional health-care system willing to go the distance to provide the best in medical care for each and every one of us.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/28DbpZZ


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