State briefs

By Gillette News Record

October 12, 2016

Roundup not required for overpopulated horses

CHEYENNE — A federal appeals court has ruled against Wyoming officials who sought to require the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to round up wild horses from overpopulated herds.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Tuesday upheld a ruling that federal law doesn’t mandate roundup of overpopulated wild horses that compete with cattle for forage.

Wild horse advocacy groups, including the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, praised the decision. The groups’ attorney, Bill Eubanks, calls it an important new precedent for wild-horse management.

Wild horse numbers exceed federal population goals in several areas across the region. Wyoming sued in 2014, saying allowing too many horses can damage rangelands.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead says he is disappointed and has asked Attorney General Peter Michael to review the state’s options.

Change to retirement plan to cost millions

CASPER — A change in the University of Wyoming’s retirement plan will cut millions in employee health insurance benefits for future retirees.

The UW Board of Trustees in June moved to reduce the number of sick days an employee is allowed to accrue toward retirement from 960 to 480 and converted the payout to a one-time cash payment based on salary.

Previously staff could bank unused sick days, which would then be applied toward payment of state health insurance premiums at retirement.

The old system was more than what other state employees received, UW President Laurie Nichols said

“This change, which aligns the university with other state agencies, is a prudent move during this time of financial uncertainty,” Nichols said. “Overall, our benefits package is still a strong one. Employee morale is always a concern during budget reductions, but this is a necessary step to put the university in a stronger position for the long term.”

Law professor Robert Sprague, of the Faculty Senate, says there was no notice that the benefit was being considered for elimination and no mention that the decision had been made.

He said he plans to ask the Faculty Senate to approve a resolution calling on the board to revisit the issue. He said the change should at least only apply to teachers hired after July 1.

“It didn’t matter what job you had here — as long as you qualified, you were paid the insurance premium based on your health insurance plan,” Sprague said. “Now the amount of your benefit depends on your salary at retirement.”

Sentencing set for Hitching Post fire

CHEYENNE— Sentencing has been set for a New Jersey man who pleaded guilty to insurance fraud charges in connection with the 2010 arson of the landmark Hitching Post Inn.

Falgun Dharia faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced Nov. 17.

Dharia was a principal in CJM Hospitality LLC, which bought the Hitching Post at a bankruptcy proceeding. Prosecutors say the blaze was set to defraud an insurance company of $13 million.

Dharia has admitted to knowing about the arson when filing an insurance claim, but denies responsibility for the fire.

One of Dharia’s business partners and two other men were sentenced to prison in 2013 for various crimes related to the blaze.

Dharia will be sentenced in New York.

Legislators tackle pot edibles law

CHEYENNE — A legislative panel has suggested specific graduated penalties for possession of marijuana edibles that police say are increasingly coming in from other states where the drug is legal.

A subcommittee of the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee voted Tuesday to recommend drafting a measure that would make the first conviction a low misdemeanor that would carry a penalty of up to a $200 fine and 20 days in jail. The second conviction would carry a fine of up to $750 and six months.

A third conviction would be a felony, which would be punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

 

Current state law only provides misdemeanor charges for possession of marijuana edibles.

The proposed draft bill will be considered by the full interim committee next month.

Montana

Feds warn state over driver’s license law

HELENA— Homeland security officials have warned Montana Gov. Steve Bullock that the state may not get any more time to comply with federal driver’s license rules, meaning residents may eventually need a different form of identification to board commercial aircraft.

In response, Bullock wrote Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson a letter Tuesday urging him to suspend implementation of the Real ID Act and accept Montana licenses as secure forms of identification.

“The Obama administration continues to push what I think is a real misguided effort, this Real ID Act,” Bullock said. “I’ve written Secretary Johnson to say it’s time to suspend your efforts and go back to the Congress and get this fixed because Montana is not going to be in compliance.”

Montana and several other states oppose requirements in the federal law that include storing images of documents that driver’s license applicants present as proof of their identity, such as birth certificates. The state already has been granted two one-year extensions to get in compliance. But a letter sent Sept. 15 by Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Secretary Ted Sobel said states that can’t commit to fully complying with the law may not receive any more extensions.

Glacier park sets new annual visitation record

KALISPELL— Glacier National Park has broken its annual visitation record for the third year in a row, with more than 2.7 million people entering the park in 2016.

The National Park Service says this year’s total has already surpassed the number of visitors for all of last year by more than 370,000.

The park also set a new record last month for September visitation, with more than 470,000 visitors. That marked a 32 percent increase from September 2015.

Last month’s numbers followed a series of record-setting months for Glacier attendance in May, June, July and August.

The increase in visitation comes as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th year.

Originally posted by Gillette News Record