The Billings Outpost

More funds sought for Yellowstone River study

By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

“We have not gotten our fair share of the federal resources,” said Don Youngbauer, head of the Yellowstone River District Council, at a five-hour meeting last week at Montana State University Billings.

Mr. Youngbauer wants at least $1 million in federal money to complete the first Cumulative Effects Study - a study designed to anticipate serious water shortages that was supposed to be completed five years ago.

“There has never been a study of this magnitude that has ever been done on any river in the world,” said Mr. Youngbauer. “We must look at the river, see how much water can be used and not compromise the people and communities downstream. It’s a travesty what we did to Mexico.”

Water in the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico has been all used up for agriculture, he said.

“We have not been very good to our neighbors to the south,” he said. “That river is just a dribble by the time it gets to the ocean now.”

He added, “Dang, when that oil spill happened on the Yellowstone, we got calls from India, France, England, and more. Everyone in the world knows how important the Yellowstone River is.”

Indeed, the meeting, hosted by MSU Billings, attracted the attention of Rebecca Wodder, a deputy assistant secretary to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who heads the agency that includes the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Ms. Wodder attended the Dec. 6 meeting and announced that she would relay the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council’s request for the funds to complete the Cumulative Effects Study to Mr. Salazar as soon as she returned to Washington, D.C.

Other studies of the Yellowstone reveal the importance of ecological, socio-economic and industrial aspects of the river, Mr. Youngbauer said. The river provides water for wildlife like ducks and geese, people and industry.

MSU Billings Professor Susan Gilbertz played a key role in the completion of the socioeconomic study, complemented by a summer tour of the river. Of the roughly 19 studies done on the river, the avian and the socioeconomic ones are complete, but many others languish, still unfinished, including an important economic study that was originally a pilot study, according to Mr. Youngbauer.

“Where would we be if we had not started these studies 15 years ago?” asked Mr. Youngbauer, in a telephone interview. “Oil people are buying water rights from cities, farmers” and others, he said. He explained that hydrologists, mainly in Sidney and Glendive, are drilling wells that eventually reduce water pressure. There are also water depots, where truckers transport millions of gallons of water to fracking locations.

“There is absolutely not enough water for the magnitude of development in the oil industry – right now, the oil industry could use all of the water in the Yellowstone and more,” he said.

A new federal program designed to protect rivers and watersheds is the Blueways Designation from the Department of the Interior, the focus of the Dec. 6 meeting. Encouraging diverse federal agencies to communicate with each other more effectively, the Blueways Designation identifies so far only the Connecticut River and its New England watershed as a federal Blueway.

During the five months of that river’s enjoyment of Blueway status, no significant reports have been released.

The primary federal agencies involved are the Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey and BLM. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet found a representative role in this effort.

On the state level, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation are involved. Mr. Youngbauer said more cooperation is needed between state and federal agencies, especially the Army Corps of Engineers, which helps protect rivers from erosion and builds levies to stave off floods.

Although the council does not know how much funding the YRCDC effort will receive, the council, via Mr. Youngbauer, said that the federal agencies have already contributed $6.5 million over five years and that there is now a cost-sharing mechanism through which Montana contributes 25 percent and the feds 75 percent.

Montana has invested way beyond its original obligations, said Mr. Youngbauer. Besides leading the YRCDC, Mr. Youngbauer is also a dentist and cattle rancher with about 500 head in Forsyth, 28 miles north of the river.

The public is invited to the meetings of the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council. Call 223-5702 or 247-4411 or check for information.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 December 2012 18:31

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Teens hit by weak job market


MISSOULA - Work experience is required to get a job, but you can’t get that experience without a job. It’s a tricky situation for Montana’s teens and young adults, with a new KIDS COUNT reportfrom the Annie E. Casey Foundation showing that 22,000 Montanans ages 16 to 24 are not working, and they’re not in school. Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT, says a tight job market is one reason positions are scarce.

“The jobs go to older workers who have experience. Young workers today have many fewer opportunities to gain the experience they need.”

She points to research showing that the brains of young adults need positive work experiences early on in order to develop properly. First jobs are about more than paychecks; they instill work ethic skills and self-management techniques that aren’t usually taught in school, she adds.

The report says there are many ways to help young people, and it’s not all in the hands of the government. Businesses have a role to play, too, Dillon says, and it’s in their best interest to invest in a workforce.

Multiple pathways would help, the report says, including finding ways to engage high school dropouts and exploring options to help Montanans afford higher education – as well as sticking with programs until graduation.

The full report can be found at at

Last Updated on Friday, 14 December 2012 17:59

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Waiting for Farm Bill


MISSOULA – Montana farmers and ranchers are watching closely as Congress gets back to work.

While the so-called “fiscal cliff” is garnering the most attention, an expired farm bill is also still sitting on the “to-do” list. 

Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says rumors have been flying about the timing of a final bill, and he’s optimistic.

“There’s still a chance that it will be done before the end of the year. The key issue here is not just when it gets done, but that it gets done well.”

Hassebrook notes key differences in the versions passed by the House and Senate, and calls the Senate version more friendly to Montana and other rural states.

“The Senate bill invests in small business development in rural America; the House bill does not. And the Senate bill invests more in beginning farmer programs. So, doing the farm bill right is every bit as important as getting it done soon.”

Even though the bill expired, funding is being continued for federal crop insurance and the food stamp program, Hassebrook says, but some conservation programs are in limbo, as well as disaster programs, and funding was severely limited for rural entrepreneurship initiatives.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 10:24

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Christmas trees available

With the approach of Thanksgiving, the season for harvesting a Christmas tree is right around the corner. Christmas tree permits went on sale this week November 13 on both the Custer and Gallatin national forests.

Christmas tree permits are available for purchase at all local ranger district offices, including Big Timber, Livingston, Gardiner, Bozeman and West Yellowstone on the Gallatin National Forest and Ashland, Red Lodge, Billings and Camp Crook, S.D., on the Custer National Forest.

“Cutting a Christmas tree around Thanksgiving or leading into December is a popular and longstanding family tradition for many,” said Mariah Leuschen, public affairs specialist for the Custer and Gallatin national forests. “It’s a great way to spend time outdoors with those close to you and possibly start a new tradition.”

Permits are $5 each with a limit of three permits per family. Permits can be purchased at Forest Service offices during regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additionally, the Beartooth Ranger District will be open to sell tags on the four Saturdays immediately following Thanksgiving starting Nov. 24 and continuing on Dec. 1, 8 and 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Maps, forest road access updates and tree species identification guides are available at all offices.

Those with a permit may cut a Christmas tree anywhere on the Custer or Gallatin National Forest except in campgrounds, trailheads, designated wilderness areas, developed recreation sites, posted timber sale units, recently planted locations and administrative sites. Permits are also valid for any national forest in the Northern Region, which includes all of Montana, northern Idaho and portions of North and South Dakota.

No tree cutting is allowed within 100 feet of any stream, lake, or wetland. Only trees 12 feet tall or less may be cut.

* Cut your tree as close to the ground as possible and below the lowest live limb. A remaining stump height of 6 inches or less is ideal.

* After cutting your tree, attach the purchased permit to a lower limb near the trunk for transporting home.

* “Topping” trees, or cutting the top off trees, deforms any future growth and leaves a visual eyesore. Take the entire tree or choose another one.

* Trees help protect watersheds, provide habitat for wildlife, and contribute to beautiful scenery. Keep these values in mind when selecting a tree.

For more information, contact any Custer or Gallatin National Forest office or online at and

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:20

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Long lines delay count

By ALLISON CONNELL - AARON CURTIS - and KYLE SCHMAUCH - UM School of Journalism - Montana Public Media

Officials in Montana’s most populous counties were reporting heavy turnout Tuesday night, with long lines of waiting voters and those still hoping to register. In some places, officials predicted people were voting long after the polls closed.

That was the story in Cascade, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Yellowstone and Flathead counties.

Ross Cavosos, a volunteer at the Yellowstone County office, said late Tuesdays afternoon that the turnout in Montana’s largest county was overwhelming.

“Everyone is surprised we have so many people trying to vote,” he said, adding that many of those in line appeared to be young voters. He said some would-be voters waited three and a half hours for late registration and he expected lines to remain long for most of the evening.

Across the state in Missoula, county election official Anne Hughes reported a strong turnout, which meant long lines for some hoping to register and vote.

“We always hope for a high turnout, even if that means a crazier time for us,” she said.

In Bozeman, a local TV station reported that some polling places had run out of ballots.

Heavy voting was the trend in Flathead and Cascade counties too. Flathead County elections supervisor Monica Eisenzimer said officials there expect to see their last voter vote an hour or two after the polls close.

Shantell McGraw from the Cascade office said doors may close at 8 tonight, but the voters could be casting ballots after 10.

“We have a crazy amount of people in here, probably about 200 people in late registration line right now,” said McGraw.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 16:58

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Montanans split over re-election of Obama

By ERIK ANDERSON - and BROOKS JOHNSON - UM School of Journalism - Montana Public Media

It may not be surprising that in a state that did not cast its electoral votes for President Obama that news of his re-election drew mixed reaction at the party headquarters Tuesday night.

News of networks’ projections of Obama’s win drew cheers from Montanans who had spent most of the night waiting for results in the closely fought statewide races.

“I voted for him and because I feel like it means good things for our country,” said Hannah Berglund, 21, a Helena student at the University of Montana. “He sees things the way I do when it comes to civil rights issues and I think that’s what’s most important overall.”

Others at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena echoed Berglund’s optimism.

“I think it takes us in the right direction. It means that middle class people will have a chance to improve their access to opportunities. Most of the economic programs that he’s been pursuing will come to fruition. Economically, America will be stronger in four years,” said Randy Fuhrmann, 52, a professional mental health counselor.

But across town at the Republican party near the state Capitol, Obama’s re-election sent a far more chilling message.

“I’m disappointed. I fear for our country,” former gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone said Tuesday night, expressing deep concerns that the Senate would remain in Democratic hands.

“The country’s very divided. This campaign has been very divisive,” Livingstone added.

Results were incomplete at press time, but the Montana Secretary of State website showed Mitt Romney winning Montana with 55 percent of the vote. In Yellowstone County, Romney had nearly 59 percent of the vote.

In other national races, Steve Daines was declared the winner over Kim Gillan in their race for the U.S. House.Mr. Daines had 53 percent of the vote at press time.

The Senate race between incumbent Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg remained unresolved. Sen. Tester was shown leading Rep. Rehberg, with 49 percent of the vote to 45 percent.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 16:56

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Medical marijuana patients await IR-124 vote

By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

Heath Robinson, 36, a medical marijuana patient with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, is a burly young man, his build belying the physical afflictions he suffers. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a medical marijuana T-shirt with text barely visible reading “Code of the West,” he holds a container of balm in one hand and a bottle of tincture in the other.

He looked the part of perhaps an off-duty medical corpsman or nurse. In those containers, active cannabis ingredients help him to relieve muscle spasms, pain and the constant neurological damage caused by MS.

“These bottles get me off seven prescription drugs for MS that have terrible side effects,” he said, citing nausea, restless leg syndrome, chronic muscle pain, tremor and severe nightmares.

He said he dissolves a few drops of the tincture into tea or juice. The drink relieves his pain, discomfort from muscle spasms and other neurological pain that the body’s immune system causes while attacking itself.

In MS, the body’s immune system receives erroneous messages from a gene. Those erroneous messages cause the body to attack healthy muscle and nerve tissue. The attacks result in pain, numbness and neurological tissue damage, according to the National Institute of Health website.

As of press time, Senate Bill 423 remained blocked by a temporary restraining order issued last Friday by Judge James P. Reynolds. Judge Reynolds held that immediate and irreparable harm could fall upon an unreasonable number of the most vulnerable Montanans in the medical marijuana registry.

In support of returning to Initiative 148, the original 2004 voter-approved plan for medical marijuana, Lori Burnam, featured in the film “Code of the West,” wrote a letter to The Billings Gazette, expressing her difficulties in dealing with lung cancer. In her letter to the editor, she said she is too sick to manage her own cannabis crop, one of the requirements that SB423 would likely impose upon her and possibly about 5,500 other medical cannabis patients.

The ability of most medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana is limited. Elderly patients and those with terminal illnesses – such as cancer – may lack the physical strength as well as the mental acuity to be vigilant of molds, spores, aphids, mites and other curses that can decimate a marijuana crop. The complicated schedules of lighting demanded by young plants in order to flower properly require an advanced knowledge of specialized horticultural practices.

“It is not easy to grow your own,” said Mr. Robinson.

After SB423 canceled his and Ms. Burman’s ability to buy medical cannabis from an approved provider, they both were despondent. The medical cannabis roller coaster-like track of legislation continues at least until Nov. 6, when voters can choose SB423, a plan that allows providers no more than three patients and doesn’t allow patients to give anything of value to their providers in exchange for medicinal cannabis, including balms, salves, tinctures and baked goods containing the cannabis. Or they can strike the bill down and return to provisions of the original initiative.

Mr. Robinson said he is off drugs because of the availability of those cannabis products. He is waiting for the results of the Nov. 6 election, before deciding what to do.

He and Ms. Burman said cannabis is the only medical alternative that relieves their pain and does not make them overly fatigued or otherwise impaired by the side effects of pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors.

Team of doctors

Mr. Robinson said he has a team of about eight doctors at Billings Clinic, none of whom can serve as his prescribing or co-physician for him to receive legal medical marijuana. He said he thinks the law should be changed to allow for more research into MS and the healing effects of cannabis on that disease.

Currently, numbers of medical marijuana patients are now down from a high of 30,000 in Montana in 2009 to today’s number of about 8,500.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:08

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Senate candidates battle over ‘real’ Montana

By CAITLYN WALSH - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Montanans can’t escape the television and radio ads attacking the two candidates for U.S. Senate. Paid for by official groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and murkier organizations like Crossroads GPS, the ads generally assault Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Dennis Rehberg as being out of touch with normal Montanans.

The deluge often leaves Montanans wondering who the candidates are and where they stand on major issues.

This has become a battle of who is the most authentic Montanan, with Rehberg’s website stressing he is “a fifth-generation Montana rancher and small businessman” and Tester’s emphasizing he is “a third-generation Montana dirt farmer who brings Montana values with him to the U.S. Senate.”

Despite these differences, the two agree on many contentious issues facing the state.

Both Tester and Rehberg call for creating jobs in Montana by deregulating small business and cutting taxes, though they often spar vehemently over exactly what taxes and regulations need to be targeted. Both voted for the Keystone XL pipeline and seek to develop more coal and oil resources in the state. And both say they have fought for gun rights in Washington.

Where do the differences lie?

But they pull no punches when describing the other.

“Rehberg is not willing to do the work,” Tester said. “It’s lip service versus getting stuff done. Right now, I’m leading the charge on a sportsman’s bill, and we’re going to stay here until it’s done. I have a record of accomplishment.”

Congressman Rehberg agreed that voters should examine their records but disagrees with what they will find.

“I’ll always put Montana first, standing up to leaders from any party as a check and balance. Senator Tester votes with President Obama’s liberal agenda 95 percent of the time,” he replied via email.

The two also disagree over federal health care reform, women’s reproductive rights, and the extension of tax cuts first implemented by President George W. Bush.

“I support a complete repeal of the Tester-Obama health care act so we can replace it with a bill that actually reforms health care to reduce costs and improve access,” Rehberg wrote. “All the Tester-Obama law did was add more people to a failing system. Costs continue to rise, and the problem keeps getting worse. Montanans deserve better.”

Tester voted in 2009 to pass the Affordable Care Act which aims to expand the number of Americans with health care insurance by increasing the availability of Medicaid, allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26 and requiring others to purchase some form of insurance or pay an additional tax.

On reproductive rights, Rehberg voted in 2011 to revoke federal funding to Planned Parenthood and argued for reducing accessibility to abortions. While in the Senate, Tester supported funding for Planned Parenthood.

Both candidates also voted with their party on the extension of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, also referred to as the “Bush Tax Cuts.”

Tester sought to amend the bills by “limiting the tax cuts to the first $200,000 of income for individuals and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly.”

Rehberg voted to keep the cuts the same, reducing the tax rate for households making over $250,000 per year.

Staying on message

Throughout the campaign, Tester has sought to distance himself from the president and national Democratic Party. He did not attend his party’s national convention in Charlotte this summer and has several ads out highlighting ways in which he voted against President Obama.

Attack ads from conservative groups outside Montana and Rehberg accuse him of “voting with Obama 95 percent of the time.”

Still, Tester said the Democratic Party is a party that endorses many Montana values.

“We support the middle class, the working class,” he said. “Support for working families, for farming families, is real. We also support affordable education, not only K-12, but higher education, and veteran’s services.”

For his part, Rehberg argues that his policies represent Montana values of less regulation and lower taxes.

“If they want to bolster job growth and economic recovery by reducing the senseless burden of government, they should vote for me,” Rehberg said in an email.  “If they want to just be left alone to go about their lives without the federal government directing everything they do, they should vote for me.”

Voters count

Come Election Day Montana’s choice may resonate far beyond the Treasure State, according to political scientist James Lopach, a University of Montana professor.

“Montana is (the) state that could give Republicans control (of the Senate),” Lopach said. “Achieving that goal in Montana is far cheaper than achieving that goal in an urban area. I think that’s why we’re seeing so much money coming in on both sides. It’s coming from the party, from the contributors of the candidates and coming in from Political Action Committees.”

The result has been a record number of ads. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, Montanans were hit with nearly 45,000 ads in the Senate race by early September, 16,000 more than the next nearest state.

Both campaigns admit the air war of campaign ads from the candidates and outside groups will only intensify as Election Day nears. Tester urged voters to remember that the campaign “is about Dennis Rehberg and Jon Tester and what’s best for Montana.”

But Lopach suggested the struggle is bigger than that. “I think it has less to do with Tester and Rehberg and more about control,” he said. “It’s about setting and enacting an agenda for the nation.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:05

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Republicans hold edge in legislative battles

By JONATHON AMBARIAN - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

While polls show a tight race for governor, the odds are with Republicans in the statewide battle to control the next Montana Legislature.

On Nov. 6 Montana will elect all 100 of the members of the state House of Representatives and 26 of the Senate’s 50 members.

Jeff Greene, a professor of political science at the University of Montana, said that it is possible, but unlikely, that the Democrats will take back control of either house of the Legislature. But he does expect them to win back several districts that had typically voted Democratic before 2010.

“Just based on the way Montana is,” Greene said, “you’re going to see some of those seats go back to the way they usually vote.”

During the last legislative session, Republicans enjoyed a 68-seat majority in the House and a 28-seat majority in the Senate.

Republicans grabbed control of the House in 2010 by winning more than 18 seats held by Democrats. That swing was the largest in a single Montana election since 1966.

Challenge for Democrats

To gain a majority in the House, Democrats would have to hold 14 seats held by their incumbents, win all 27 races where there is no incumbent, and knock off 10 incumbent Republicans.

In the Senate, the margin is smaller, but numbers favor the GOP. Of the 24 senators who are not facing re-election this year, 16 are Republicans. This means Democrats would need to win 18 of the 26 contested seats to win a majority.

Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula, co-chairman of the Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Caucus, said Democrats can win back the Legislature despite the odds.  She said Montanans have had enough of the “extreme” Republican bills that drew a record number of vetoes in 2011.

“We feel confident about picking up seats because our candidates’ agenda is Montana’s agenda,” Hill said. “Democrats take a responsible, balanced approach to job creation. That’s what voters expect from Democrats, versus the out-of-touch, partisan, extreme bills they saw from Republicans least session.”

But Hill’s GOP counterpart, Rep. Gordy Vance of Bozeman, expects that Republicans will not only maintain their legislative majorities but also increase them. He sees the 2011 legislative session as a success.

“We showed people that you are able to stop the incredible growth in the size of state government and still provide services,” Vance said.

Races to watch

Several seats formerly held by Democrats are considered among the most competitive this election.

One race to watch is Whitefish’s House District 4, where the incumbent Republican Derek Skees has decided to run for state auditor. Skees won by only 85 votes in 2010. This year’s race features two newcomers: Republican Tim Baldwin, a Kalispell attorney, and Democrat Ed Lieser of Whitefish.

Another race to follow is House District 63 in Gallatin County. It was there in 2010 that Republican Tom Burnett defeated incumbent Democrat JP Pomnichowski by 71 votes. This year Burnett faces Democratic Rep. Franke Wilmer, who jumped districts to take him on. Theirs is the only race between two incumbent representatives.

Seven House races are rematches of 2010’s elections. In House District 15, which stretches from Arlee to Browning, Republican Rep. Joe Read will again face Democrat Frosty Calf Boss Ribs, a former representative who lost by 72 votes last time.

One of the most competitive Senate races may be in District 2, in Flathead County. Sen. Ryan Zinke gave up his seat in an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor. Vying to replace him are Republican Rep. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse and Democrat David Fern, a Whitefish business owner.

Democratic officials were reluctant to talk about their chances in specific races, but Republicans said they have high hopes they can capture a trio of Billings Senate seats now held by Democrats, including Sen. Kim Gillan, who is running for Congress. They’re also optimistic about toppling Democratic Sen. Christine Kaufmann of Helena.

GOP hopes in the House include open seats held by term-limited Democrats Rep. Mike Menahan in Helena and Tim Furey in Missoula County.

Red, blue or purple?

Greene expects that the next Legislature will be more closely divided between the two parties, as it was before the 2010 elections. He said the legislative elections are likely to follow a different pattern than the statewide races.

“I see Montana in this election looking very red,” Greene said. “But when you come internally, Democrats tend to do pretty well.”

Whatever the outcome in November, the next Legislature is sure to include many new faces. Eight senators and 16 representatives are not eligible to run in this year’s elections because of term limits.

Four incumbents didn’t make it through the June primary. GOP incumbents who won’t be back are Sen. Carmine Mowbray of Polson and Rep. Bob Wagner of Harrison. Rep. Alan Hale, R-Basin, lost his primary too but is running a write-in campaign. Democratic Rep. Tony Belcourt of Box Elder lost his primary race too.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:03

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Parental notification targeted in referendum

By KYLE SCHMAUCH - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Seventeen years after the courts struck down an early attempt to require minors to notify their parents before getting an abortion, the contentious issue is back on the ballot this fall.

Legislative Referendum 120 is almost exactly like a 1995 law struck down by a Montana court as violating the Montana Constitution – with one key change.

“The difference is that the age is lower,” Jeff Laszloffy, head of the Montana Family Foundation, said, explaining the referendum would apply only to minors under 16. The previous law applied to girls under 18.

LR-120 would require that doctors notify parents or legal guardians at least 48 hours in advance of the abortion if the patient is under 16. If the minor does not want the notification to occur, she can obtain a waiver from a youth court. Notice would not be required in the case of a medical emergency.

Under the proposal, any doctor who fails to notify the parent or receive a waiver could face six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Debate over impacts

Both proponents and opponents of the referendum say their primary concern is the health and safety of young women, but they disagree over the proposed law’s impacts.

For Laszloffy, the proposal is about ensuring parents know what is happening in their family. He said LR-120 is “primarily a parental rights issue.”

He added that far less significant decisions like getting a tattoo or body piercing require parental consent – a stricter requirement than notification.

“(Abortion) is the only exception where a 13-year-old can make this type of decision,” he said. “This is what happens when political correctness trumps common sense.”

But Julianna Crowley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, stressed the proposal would put vulnerable girls in harm’s way. “It’s about privacy and it’s about abortion rights,” she said.

Planned Parenthood of Montana, which opposes the ballot initiative, estimates that 80 percent of minors already tell parents or guardians about their pregnancies.

“(A notification law) puts young women who can’t go to their parents in dangerous situations,” Crowley said. “For voters, think about teens who they know may fear a violent reaction from their parents.”

Laszloffy countered that he was also concerned about a girl who faces possible violence or abuse at home.

“If she has a dangerous home situation … this (working through a youth court) is a way she could actually end the abuse.” He also said it is dangerous for parents not to know when their child has gone through a medical procedure.

Both sides acknowledge the referendum would affect only a few Montana teens each year.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 43 reported abortions occurred among teens ages 15 and under in Montana in 2008 (the most recent year available).

Déjà vu?

Thirty-seven other states have some version of a parental notification law on their books, but Montana has been here before.

In 1995, Montana’s Legislature adopted a parental notification measure. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Parental Notice of Abortion Act was constitutional under the United States Constitution.

However, a state district court ruled that law unconstitutional under the equal protection and privacy clauses of the Montana Constitution.

Crowley said LR-120 would raise the same legal concerns as that case. Laszloffy acknowledged that while the PNAA was thrown out as unconstitutional, lowering the age of girls covered by the law helped address the issue.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer decided differently last year when he vetoed the same legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The governor made note of the lower age of affected minors, but declared in his veto letter: “Given the strength of the 1995 … decision rejecting as unconstitutional an almost identical parental notice law, and a subsequent decision of the Montana Supreme Court solidifying Montana’s strong privacy provisions not only generally, but specifically in the abortion context …, I have chosen to veto SB 97.”

If the voters approve the new notification language, many observers expect an immediate and perhaps protracted legal fight over the issue.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:02

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