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Gazette Editorial Staff

Ups and Downs gives a quick take on news of the past week.

Fighting armed criminals. Sen. Conrad Burns, U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer and Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos teamed up to procure a $120,000 federal grant that will pay for a prosecutor to go after convicted felons who use guns in their crimes. The Project Safe Neighborhood grant will help fight violent crime.

Over-the-snow tickets. Yellowstone Park rangers wrote more traffic tickets than ever before to snowmobilers driving off road or entering the park illegally. The violators are aggravating the standoff between law-abiding snowmobile enthusiasts and park and environmental advocates who want the noisy, two-cycle snow machines banned from the park.

Rental housing. The proposed Fox Meadow Apartments would provide 204 apartments, helping to meet demand in Billings' tight rental market. And the proposed location west of Rimrock Mall would develop a vacant parcel of land already inside the city limits. Sounds like a good development in a good spot.

Health insurance costs. After five years of no premium increases, School District 2 would have to increase employee health insurance premiums by 50 percent next year to continue the current plan, according to a cost consultant.

Gas prices. Gasoline prices jumped 7 cents a gallon overnight in Billings to $1.449 and are rising across the country. Will high summer gas prices prompt Congress to rethink fuel economy or to push for more oil production?

State authority. U.S. District Judge Don Molloy dismissed a lawsuit by PPL Montana, which challenged the Montana Public Service Commission's authority to regulate power it sells to NorthWestern Energy (formerly Montana Power Co.). Molloy ruled the matter must be addressed in state court.

Care improvement. Administration at the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder presented a plan for improving resident care and safety at the facility for 90 developmentally disabled adults. The state Quality Assurance Division will conduct another inspection by April 15 to determine whether the state-owned institution has sufficiently addressed serious problems found in a March survey.

Fat deduction. The IRS recognized obesity as a disease, allowing some weight-loss expenses to be claimed as a medical deduction. The good news: recognizing a major American health problem. The bad news: Only medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income are deductible and only people who itemize can take the deduction.

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