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Weekend Update, Saturday, April 7, 2012

MONTANA JAIL

APNewsBreak: Hardin may give jail to bondholders

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Economic development officials in Hardin are considering relinquishing control of a $27 million jail that has sat vacant since it was built five years ago.

Two Rivers Authority executive director Jeffrey McDowell said Friday that the title for the 464-bed jail would be turned over to the bondholders who financed the project.

He says a decision could come next week.

Originally built to spur Hardin’s struggling economy, the jail has become a financial liability and source of embarrassment for the small Montana town.

After looking for prisoners from Vermont to Alaska, local officials were so desperate to put the jail to use they nearly turned it over to a California con man who promised to turn it into a military training camp. They also sought unsuccessfully to house terrorism suspects.

CHILDREN FOUND-BOAT

Sailboating dad pleads not guilty in Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 44-year-old man accused of refusing to return his children to their mother and instead taking them to the Bahamas on a sailboat has pleaded not guilty to interference charges.

Montana Judge John Brown on Friday ordered defendant James Bryant held on $100,000 bail during his initial appearance Friday in state district court in Gallatin County. Bryant remains in custody.

He was arrested last month in Florida on three counts of parenting interference. His wife, Angela, is fighting extradition from Hawaii, where she was arrested on identical charges.

Authorities say the pair took Bryant’s three children to the Bahamas instead of returning them to their mother in Belgrade, Mont., after a parental visit scheduled to end in August.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April 25.

SCHWEITZER-HEALTH CARE

GOP lawmakers look for ways to block clinic

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Republican legislative leaders say they’re looking for ways they could delay or block the governor’s proposal for a health care clinic for 11,000 state employees in Helena.

House Speaker Mike Milburn of Cascade and Senate President Jim Peterson of Buffalo tell Lee Newspapers of Montana that they’ve talked with legislative legal staff about options, including legal action or a special legislative session. Milburn says they feel the proposal is being put together too quickly.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer proposed the clinic in February and would like to have it running by late summer or early fall. He dismissed Republican concerns, saying his is not a new idea, but one that is used by some of the largest corporations in America to save money on health care.

DEATH ROW CANADIAN

Document suggests no clemency for death row inmate

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The only Canadian on death row in the United States has a clemency hearing in less than a month, but a leaked document suggests he may have already lost his bid.

The four-page document, obtained by The Canadian Press, was written after a review by a staff member from the Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles.

It recommends denying Ron Smith’s request that his life be spared, saying there doesn’t appear to be any extraordinary circumstances to support clemency for two murders Smith committed in 1982. It was sent to Smith’s lawyers in error.

A board official says the document will be given to the three-member panel that also will hear testimony.

Attorney Don Vernay says he’s furious his client is going into the hearing with the odds stacked against him.

CABIN SITE LAWSUIT

Law to cut increases in cabin site leases blocked

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A state judge has temporarily blocked a law seeking to cut proposed increases in the cost of leasing cabin sites on state lands in northwestern Montana.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order to stop Senate Bill 409 from taking effect. Lee Newspapers of Montana reports Sherlock wrote that the law does not meet the state’s obligation to obtain fair market value for the leased properties.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer let the bill become law without his signature because the 2011 Legislature passed it with a veto-proof margin.

However, Schweitzer says he and his natural resources director told lawmakers it would be thrown out in court.

The rates proposed by the state would have meant collecting $2.7 million from 800 leaseholders in 2013. The bill reduced that to $1.6 million.

KAYAKERS FOUND

Kayakers reported missing found in Cascade County

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Cascade County authorities say two kayakers who were reported missing have been found.

Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Hitchcock says the man and woman are reported to be wet and cold, but alive.

The Great Falls Tribune reports that search and rescue officials were sent to the Sluice Boxes State Park area Friday afternoon to search for the kayakers.

The kayakers started the trip on Belt Creek earlier this week and were supposed to float down to the Evans-Riceville Road bridge and recreation area but did not arrive as scheduled.

Hitchcock says they will be assessed for injuries. Their names were not immediately released.

MONTANA-STADIUM LIGHTS

Lights installed at UM football stadium

(Information in the following story is from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Workers have installed eight banks of lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, giving the University of Montana football program the ability to hold late afternoon practices or games and host night games.

The Missoulian reports the light poles lifted into place by cranes on Thursday each holds between 18 and 22 lights facing the field. Some of the poles also have four lights that will shine into the tailgate area.

Associate athletic director Chuck Maes says the school raised private money for the $1 million project.

Griz football fans will get a chance to see the new lights when the team holds its annual spring scrimmage, starting at 6 p.m. on April 14. Admission is $5, with the money to be used to help improve UM athletic facilities.

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