Thursday: Minimum Wage, 120 Cats, Tuition Freeze

By Beacon Staff

Good morning; on the Beacon today, Montana was one of seven states to raise its minimum wage, joining four other western states – Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado – along with Vermont and Ohio. Employment and the economy might be on the minds of many Montana legislators and residents, but the 62nd Legislature will also see a host of bills dealing with the state’s approach to social issues. A Marion area couple are expected to be charged with animal cruelty after authorities last month seized 120 cats that were living in squalid conditions. Episcopal Church and Montana officials say a retired priest is facing child sexual abuse charges and is awaiting extradition to Maryland from his home in Yaak.

Republicans in control of the Montana Legislature are planning early votes next week in opposition to the new federal health care law, putting the spotlight on a major campaign theme for many in the GOP. Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s education adviser has told lawmakers that another tuition freeze is in sight if they follow the governor’s budget plan. Montana’s Democratic secretary of state said Wednesday she’s working with a Republican lawmaker to switch the state over to mail ballots for all elections. Ravalli County planning director John Lavey has resigned, saying his two-year effort to revise the county’s subdivision regulations was a waste of time. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, in Seattle on Wednesday to press Washington state for approval of a port for Montana coal, said he wants a level playing field for permitting the project worth millions to Montana’s economy. Gov. Brian Schweitzer says the 2008 ethics case against him should be dismissed for “inexcusable delay” — but the Montana Republican Party thinks otherwise, and says his request should be rejected. Montana’s economy would lose 13,500 jobs and more than $1 billion in personal income if Montana State University didn’t exist, says a new economic study.

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