Despite that, quite a bit of stuff happened.
Let’s discuss it a bit.
The Missoula School Shooting Incident
On Friday there was a shooting at Missoula’s Big Sky High School.
I guess a student at school had a gun, someone reported it, and the police officer on campus confronted him.
The student ran, got in his car, and nearly backed-over the police officer. This led to the police officer possibly shooting out the car’s back window, and perhaps the tires. The car may have side-swipped several other cars getting out of the parking lot.
A chase ensued, with another officer spotting the car and following. At some point, the student seems to have thrown a gun out the car window.
The student was stopped when his car crashed into cars at a car dealership.
Some are saying that the student had up to $100,000 worth of cocaine in his car at the time, and that the student was a known troublemaker. The student might also be a member of a minority group.
Lots of questions, few answers. Several agencies are investigating this incident, and it might be a few days or more before we learn the true facts.
Overcrowding in Butte
Butte’s 72-bed jail had 92 people in it on Friday night, before thousands descended on the city for the holiday.
This is a common Montana problem.
Missoula’s jail can hold 370 people but continually faces overcrowding issues, with nearly 400 staying there in 2016.
83% of Missoula’s jail population is there for non-violent crimes.
Last year in Helena, the 54-bed jail had about 80 people there. Voters had to approve a $4 million expansion, to up the capacity to 160.
In Libby, the 1970s-era jail was built to hold 24 people, but typically has 48 or more.
In Kalispell, their jail can hold 164 people, up from the 60 they could hold until a few expansions took place. Still, they’re already talking about a 260-bed facility, which will likely face overcrowding issues as soon as it’s finished.
This is a very vicious cycle we’ve found ourselves in, and much of it is fueled by drug and alcohol abuse.
What can be done, both to reduce our jail population and save property taxpayers money?
A 2005 study concluded that these are the main reasons Montana jails always remain overcrowded:
- An inadequate public defender system
- Little use of pretrial release
- Lack of risk and needs assessment tools
- Few instances of pre-sentence investigations
- Little in the way of community-based interventions
- No comprehensive statewide re-entry planning
Most of these solutions won’t come about until the state’s revenue situation turns around. If that happens, the Republicans might be willing to look at allocating money to these things.
If we don’t, jails will remain full.
The State Payout System
A 10-member legislative committee has been set up by leading Republicans in the legislature to look into state employee settlements.
This committee will have six Republican and four Democrats.
The numbers they’re looking at are troubling.
In 2003 the amount paid out to settle employee grievances was $50,000. In 2009 it was around $250,000. In 2011 it was back down to $50,000.
Then in 2013 things spiked.
$2.7 million has been paid out since Bullock took office, with $1.2 million paid out in 2017 alone.
Republicans seem to think that sexual harassment charges are the driving force behind these payouts.
Scott Sales, a Tea Party Republican, is the main force behind this. Austen Knudsen is another.
Missoula’s Kim Dudik is one of the Democratic legislators on the committee, and she’s said that this issue wasn’t brought up in the past legislative session, or the recent special session. She also hopes this isn’t a witch hunt against the governor.
What I’m saddened by is that we’re cutting healthcare workers, but we’re paying people not to talk, or simply not to sue the state for whatever happened to them.
That’s poor leadership in Helena.
- It’s been reported that 25% of the state’s lodging tax income comes from Gallatin County.
- The grocery store that’s opening in the old Sear’s location in the Missoula mall is expecting to hire 150 people.
- Crews in Helena have been working for two weeks now to fix potholes on nearly 200 miles of city streets.
- Three men in Park County have been fined $2,600 and given 18-month suspended sentences for poaching 3 buffalo last month.
- Two Wild Buffalo Defense group protesters were arrested in Gardiner on Friday after locking their arms in “55-gallon drums filled with concrete” to protest how buffalo are treated.
- In January, 52 buffalo were let out of a pen in Gardiner while in February the same area saw 73 of them let loose via “sabotage.”
- An environmental group in Billings called Environment Montana is claiming Western Sugar Plant has had 62 violations since 2016, and that the company dumped 8,148 times more pollution into the Yellowstone River than they should have.