Written by John Plestina
Montana Highway Patrol trooper Seth Adams and Shelley Rodenberg, both of Wolf Point, listen to a presenter during the Alcohol Summit in Bozeman in May. (Photo by John Plestina)
(Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series addressing drunk and drugged driving, and other alcohol-related problems. As a member of the task force, I attended the 2015 Alcohol Education Summit in Bozeman with the Roosevelt County DUI Task Force.)
Offset a culture?
That might be easier said than done.
Drinking alcohol is a part of the culture for many Montanans, especially along the Hi-Line, and too many people often take drinking and driving lightly.
So, it is no surprise that Montana ranks first in the nation for alcohol-related deaths.
The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates 88,000 alcohol-related deaths annually across the nation.
Possible solutions offered during the 2015 Alcohol Education Summit in Bozeman, May 20 and 21, included adoption of stricter laws addressing driving under the influence laws and consumption of alcohol by minors, funding for enhanced enforcement and better public information.
Presenters offered a “wish list” at the end of the conference of possible solutions to alcohol-related problems, some of which will be taken to voters as initiatives before the next legislative session.
Some proposals could change laws pertaining to minors in consumption of alcohol, commonly called MIP, which were said by several law enforcement officers and a justice court judge from Havre to be too lenient.
The underlying intent is to better address the statewide problem of MIP across Montana and to change the culture of the next generation of drinkers.
Some recommendations include: preventing DUI convictions of juveniles from being removed from records, allowing stacking all DUI convictions on a driver’s record; the use of interlock devices and hard license suspensions following second MIP; jail for parents that do not require their children to comply with MIP court-imposed consequences; funding for school resource officers in rural schools and social host consequences that would result in legal penalties for adults hosting parties where minors are drinking alcohol.
Other recommendations for law changes included taxing bar drinks, increased funding for law enforcement, funding for prevention programs and treatment.
The Roosevelt County DUI Taskforce, which the county commissioners formed in early 2014, participated in the summit that the Montana Department of Revenue, several Montana police departments and prevention organizations planned. Roosevelt County Commissioner Gary Macdonald, Shelley Rodenberg, Seth Adams and John Plestina, editor of The Herald-News and The Searchlight attended the summit. All are Wolf Point residents. Adams was the only law enforcement officer from northeastern Montana attending the conference.
Erin Inman is a former Prairie County attorney and former assistant attorney general.
She said the state is working toward healthier alcohol laws and policies.
She presented underlying reasons for recent legislative changes.
“Director [Montana Department of Transportation director Mike] Tooley went to the Legislature and said, ‘We need to change our laws,’” Inman said.
Tooley, then the colonel commanding the Montana Highway Patrol, sought help for the problem from lawmakers following the deaths of two MHP troopers that were caused by drunk drivers in 2008 and 2009.
Inman offered brief explanations of some changes.
She said actual physical control of a motor vehicle could now lead to DUI charges. That includes sitting in vehicles while legally intoxicated.
She gave an example of a driver who drove into a Town Pump in Cut Bank with a disabled pickup, parked it, walked to a bar next door, got drunk and was later found sitting in his disabled truck passed out behind the wheel. He received a DUI. Inman said the drive shaft was broken.
“The officer did the absolute correct thing,” Inman said.
She said an intoxicated person sleeping in a vehicle could get a DUI.
The Montana Supreme Court decided against law enforcement in that case because the pickup was disabled.
Inman also gave an example of a Missoula case last year regarding submission to blood or breath alcohol or drug testing.
“A refusal in and of itself is a variation of a DUI,” she said.
Inman cited a case in Butte in 2011 where a man ran from a hospital where he was being treated for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash when he learned that officers were on their way to the hospital and that he was going to be tested for alcohol.
She said the law has since changed allowing for warrants if a person refuses alcohol or drug testing.
Inman also addressed Montana being one of a few states that do not allow roadblocks for DUI enforcement.
She said DUI checkpoints are a gray area because law enforcement can use roadblocks to check for licenses, registrations and proof of liability insurance, but cannot use checkpoints solely to enforce DUI laws, which many other states allow.
“Data shows they are highly effective,” Inman said.
She also talked about House Bill 412 which revises laws addressing minors in possession of alcohol laws allowing for immunity from MIP laws for young people needing emergency medical help.
Another piece of legislation makes e-warrants permissible in Montana.
“You can email a judge now,” Inman said.
Another bill prohibits judges from imposing higher fines than a person can afford and clarifies aggravated DUI in lieu of third offense DUI. A DUI becomes felony child endangerment if a child is in the car.
HB 132 allows for reallocation of unspent special revenue funds from driver’s license reinstatement fees to counties that have DUI task forces. Roosevelt County is one of those counties and between $15,000 and $18,000 will be awarded to Roosevelt County July 1.
“There are 34 [counties that have DUI task forces] right now, but we’re going to have six more because of this,” Roosevelt County Commissioner Gary Macdonald said.
Michelle Snowberger, bureau chief, records and driver control, Motor Vehicle Division and former city court judge in Belgrade, addressed HB 488.
That new law imposes a $300 administrative fee for refusal to submit to blood or breath alcohol or drug testing. The individual’s driver’s license is taken until the $300 fee is paid.
Also, a first conviction of DUI carries a six-month license suspension with eligibility for a probationary or what is commonly known as an “essential license,” which restricts driving to transportation to and from work, medical appointments, court appearances and taking children to school.
Snowberger said Ohio now issues bright yellow license plates to shame people who have had DUIs.
Montana Highway Patrol trooper Lacie Wickum of Chester talked about the 24/7, a zero tolerance program that involves twice daily testing of persons convicted of DUI. She said the program works like an electric fence, forcing people to remain sober or face consequences.
The 24/7 program started in South Dakota and was later adopted by the Montana Legislature.
“People don’t typically blow hot [alcohol detected] on this program,” Wickum said. “People are compliant on this program.”
“The law was mainly written for second or subsequent offenders,” Wickum said. She added that it could be used for first time offenders.
People pay for the program and it keeps them out of jail.
In Montana, the 24/7 program later received strong bipartisan support with 95 percent of legislators voting in support.
Following the rollout of the program in several counties, alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Montana were down 30 percent in 2013.
The SCRAM [Continuous Transdermal Alcohol-Monitoring Device] program, is more commonly in use in Montana and is occasionally used by Roosevelt County Justice Court and 15th District Court in Wolf Point. Roosevelt County Justice Court in Wolf Point has also used house arrest. SCRAM provides alcohol monitoring and location monitoring.
The Roosevelt County DUI Task Force has discussed using alcohol compliance checks in Wolf Point.
At the Alcohol Summit, Kalispell Police officer Jason Parce addressed compliance checks. He is an alcohol enforcement team coordinator for the Flathead County multi-jurisdictional task force, a former school resource officer and a member of the STOP Underage Drinking in the Flathead Coalition.
He said several minors have been prosecuted for using fake identification to purchase alcohol and several bartenders have also been prosecuted.
“When we do compliance checks, we let the stores know we’re on their side,” Parce said.
However, he added, “We want to hold the licensees and employees accountable to the community.”
Parce said the underage people purchasing alcohol are victimizing the businesses in the community.
He said he develops rapport with the establishments and their employees.
Parce said juvenile buyers working with police cannot lie about their age if asked by a server or store employee.
He said some establishments are four to not be compliant with the state’s requirement for alcohol server training.
“A lot of people will find out they don’t have the certification to sell alcohol,” Parce said.
Results of compliance checks are publicized with press releases.
Kalispell police send letters of appreciation to establishments where employees have been found to comply with the law.
What Parce called a “problem child,” is a bar in Kalispell where police respond to two or three calls to most nights.
Parce also talked about shoulder tap operations at alcohol establishments where adults who purchased alcohol for underage people are targeted. Underage undercover people ask adults if they will buy alcohol for them.
He also addressed the “Cops in Shops” program that is a partnership between law enforcement and retailers intended to deter minors from attempting to purchase alcohol and deter adults from purchasing alcohol for minors.
Undercover police officers act as customers at establishments with the knowledge of owners or managers, or pose as store employees and wait to apprehend underage individuals when they attempt to purchase alcohol.
State law addressing consumption of alcohol by minors was addressed at the summit.
Rebecca Sturdevant, family nurse practitioner for the Montana Common Sense Coalition, said teenage brains are immature preventing teens from making choices like adults.
Audrey Barger is the Hill County [Havre] Justice Court judge, presides over DUI and Drug Court and is the Montana Judicial Outreach Liaison. She spoke about the underage drinking problem from a judicial perspective.
Barger said she can only detain juveniles under age 18 if she conducts a youth detention hearing.
Most are referred to Montana Youth Court.
Deregulation of alcohol sales, as is the case in Washington, might not be a solution, said Linda Becker, senior prevention research manager for Washington’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery.
Becker spoke at the summit on the impact of Washington’s liquor privatization initiative that voters approved, which has been called out of control by some people.
Deregulation resulted in more stores selling liquor with more hours that sales are allowed and the same number of state enforcement officers.
Montana is one of only a few remaining liquor control states.
Becker talked about the availability of Pocket Shots and incidents of teenagers taking the product to high school sports events.
Another presenter addressing deregulation in Washington was Pamela Erickson.
She talked about potential harm of alcohol and reducing the availability of inexpensive alcohol to youth in a hyper-competitive retail market.
Erickson said alcohol promotions include high-volume purchases and lead to binge drinking.
Erickson said Costco re-wrote 60 pages of state alcohol law in Washington’s voter initiative and gave $22 million to the campaign to pass the measure in 2011.
The availability of alcohol spiked with a proliferation of stores selling alcohol from 338 state stores to more than 1,700 outlets selling alcohol.
She said many small liquor stores in Washington have gone out of business and prices have increased.
Written by John Plestina
Wolf Point School District trustees were expected to ratify union contracts Tuesday, June 9, after The Herald-News went to press.
The Wolf Point Education Association, which represents teachers, and the Wolf Point Educational Support Staff Association, which represents non-certified school staff, including paraprofessional aids, office staff, custodians and cafeteria workers, both met during the past week and ratified proposed contracts.
School district and union negotiators reached a verbal accord Thursday, May 28, nearly four months after negotiations began for new labor agreements.
The lingering impasse was based on the amount the school district would contribute for employee health insurance and wage issues.
The settlement was based on forming a health insurance pool for eligible district employees that would reduce the projected cost of providing insurance to all teachers and full-time classified [non-teaching] employees that work at least 30 hours each week. Under the new agreement, the district will pay individual and family health insurance but there will be no health savings accounts and single employees will have to pay $2,600 deductible out of their pockets and those with family coverage would have to meet $5,200 deductible.
The school district and representatives of both unions initially agreed to the district’s original offer to pay $937.50 per month for health insurance coverage for every participating employee, with the funds going into an insurance pool. But, with both unions participating in a single pool, higher employer contributions became necessary. The district agreed to pay $1,044 per month for every participating employee. The result is that monies paid for insurance for single individuals would help pay for family coverage for other employees. The original proposal with no insurance pool would have left employees with families having to pay part of the premiums.
Before an agreement was reached, the WPESSA was asking for the district to pay $1,356 per month for every employee to purchase whatever coverage they wish.
Neither side waivered on the $418.50 difference until May 28.
The school district is asking both unions to research alternative insurance carriers for the 2016-2017 school year.
The school district and unions have not been in agreement on a possible change of health insurance carriers. The district is renewing coverage for one year with the current provider, the Montana Unified School Trust. That coverage has been called expensive.
Other points of the proposed contracts agreed upon include the WPESSA dropping a demand for longevity raises that could have left the district having to give some longtime employees raises of as much as $8,000 per year. The three classified employees who have worked for the district over 21 years will each receive one additional day of personal leave.
The 15 12-month classified employees will each receive a 25-cent per hour raise.
The district and the WPESSA had not previously agreed about pay for paraprofessional aides that substitute when teachers are absent and substitute teachers are not available.
Under the new agreement, paraprofessionals will receive an additional $30 for each day they are used as a substitute. Substitute teachers who are not on the WPSD staff receive $100 per day.
Most of the unsuccessful negotiations had been with the former school board. The entire six-member board was up for election May 5 due to federal court mandated redistricting creating five single-member districts and one at-large position. Five of the six former board members did not seek election in single-member districts. Former board vice chair Jaronn Boysun was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection.
The new board members are Brandon Babb, Lanette Clark, LaRae Hanks, Linda Hansen, Mark Kurokawa and Corey Reum.
Representatives of the former school board began meeting with union representatives in February with lingering stalemates over how much the school district would contribute for employee health insurance and wages. Two unsuccessful rounds of mediation with a Montana Department of Labor and Industry mediator failed to produce an agreement with the WPESSA. The WPEA did not participate in the mediation process.
Written by John Plestina
The former Wolf Point High School teacher, athletic director and basketball coach who turned down an offer in April to become Wolf Point’s next superintendent received approval from the Poplar School board Monday, June 8, to become the next district superintendent in Poplar.
Jim Baldwin, 59, originally from Culbertson and currently of St. John, Wash., has 39 years experience in education. He taught at WPHS for nearly a decade from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s. Baldwin is also a former superintendent in Choteau.
Baldwin will replace embattled superintendent Dr. Kim Harding, who the board placed on administrative leave May 14. She began working as superintendent at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
Elementary principal Keith Erickson and high school principal Dwain Haggard have served as co-superintendents since Harding’s departure.
A petition that circulated in Poplar asked for Harding’s removal.
That came after the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board voted 9-1 April 27 to banish Harding from the reservation. Numerous allegations claimed that Harding did not get along with teachers and she was accused of referring to several Poplar teachers as “renegades” in an email dated March 6. A Poplar teacher publicized the email from Harding on March 11.
Harding was taken to task because historical uses of the word “renegade” are considered offensive by Native Americans.
Harding told The Herald-News in early May that the email was portrayed in the press [not in The Herald-News] as racist in nature and described situations that had been happening at staff meetings.
“I absolutely wish I had never used the word renegade. I come from Ronan [on the Flathead Reservation]. We raised our family there and have our ranch there,” Harding said.
Written by John Plestina
Culbertson area residents that are concerned about a proposed landfill that would accept oilfield waste, including naturally-occurring radioactive materials, have an opportunity to express their opinions to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality during a public meeting, at town hall Thursday, June 11, from 6-8 p.m.
“Within a two-mile radius there are 18 homes,” Culbertson Mayor Gordon Oelkers said.
They finally got a completed permit with DEQ, so now DEQ is doing their public hearing on it,” he said.
MDEQ began the permitting process for the proposed radioactive Bakken Oilfield waste dump in February 2014
A permit would allow Clay Butte Environmental, a Minnesota company, to establish the landfill on 149 acres of a 160-acre site on the west side of Montana Hwy. 16, about five miles north of Culbertson.
The landfill also would accept contaminated soil from oil spills and would have a capacity of nearly 10 million cubic yards.
According to an MDEQ study, waste would be tested for radiation and levels exceeding a maximum threshold would be rejected.
North Dakota produces the majority of oilfield waste in the region, but lacks a radioactive waste facility.
Montana allows higher levels of radioactive waste than North Dakota.
Written by John Plestina
Wolf Point High School Class Of 2019. (Photo Courtesy Shelley Ferdina)
The Most Outstanding Eighth Grade Boys and Girls and the runners up were awarded during the junior high graduation. Pictured are: (from left to right) Lauren Crawford, runner-up; Hailey Brunelle: most outstanding eighth grade girl; Brendan Wagner and Tyson Weeks, co-most outstanding eighth grade boys. (Photo by John Plestina)
Forty-eight eighth-graders received diplomas in the Wolf Point High School gymnasium Tuesday, June 2, making them the WPHS class of 2019.
Honor student speaker Paisley Ferdina told her classmates graduation does matter.
“We’ve heard this several times throughout the school year because it does matter,” she said.
Brendan Wagner, the second honor student speaker said he hopes the class will get over their obstacles and achieve great things.
Honor student speaker Lauren Crawford told her classmates they are taking the next step to the transition to high school.
“What you do will impact your future greatly,” she said.
Matthew DeWitt, an honor student speaker, reminded the eighth grade class that most of them had been together since kindergarten.
“The past two years have been a time for change for us,” he said.
“It’s better to fail at something you love than to succeed at something you hate,” DeWitt said.
The final honor student speaker was Hailey Brunelle.
“I challenge each and every person in this gym to give someone else a compliment,” she said.
The graduates are Elmarie A. Adams, Alyssa D. Archdale, Morgan K. Bauer, Mary S. Bighorn, Jessica M. Blankenship, Caleb J. Blount, Chevy W. Boos, Hailey E. Brunelle, Jakeb P. Bushman, LaKeesha M. Comes Last, LaTesha M. Comes Last, Lauren G. Crawford, Laresa R. Dale, Matthew J. DeWitt, Cheryl C. Eagle, Thai G. Eggebrecht, Paisley J. Ferdina, Justin J. Fields, Jayde P. Four Star, Trey M. Four Star, Rayce M. Hamilton, Jayden A. Headdress, Annette M. Henderson, Danielle J. Henderson, Logan J. Heser, Haley R. Jackson, James W. Jackson Jr., Sky A. Johnston, Abby L. Juve, Trisetan A. Kemp, Kassandra A. Kirkaldie, Jaclynn L. Lewis, Shikyra M. Medicinestone Smith, Zachariah L. Morales, Antonio D. Nation Jr., Tyson J. Nelson, Theophile I. Nelson-Bruguier, Kayden C. Roubideaux, Kobe J. Silk, John P. Smoker Jr., Hailey N. Steele, Avah C. Talks Different, Tra A. Taylor, Dani J. Vine, Brendan M. Wagner, Tyson T. Weeks, Semarah G. Wells and Joseph K. Williamson.