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Bill Would Allow Elected Officials To Rescind Health Board Orders During Emergencies

A screen capture of a Montana House Local Government Committee meeting. Five lawmakers participating remotely are visible in separate squares, as is a view of the committee room. Chyron reads "Rep. David Bedey (R) | HB121 Sponsor."
Montana Public Affairs Network
Republican Rep. David Bedey of Hamilton presents House Bill 121 during a House Local Government Committee meeting on Jan. 14, 2021.

Montana lawmakers Thursday heard testimony on a bill that would allow local elected officials to rescind board of health mandates during times of emergency or disaster. The bill is among a slew of GOP proposals to modify the power of local public health officials.

Republican Rep. David Bedey of Hamilton told the House Local Government Committee that his bill would bring balance between local elected bodies and boards of health.

“This division of authority leaves many Montanans feeling that they are denied an effective say in the local regulations that govern important aspects of their lives," Bedey said.

House Bill 121 would also remove board of health authority to adopt new health regulations outside times of emergency or disaster. A board would instead propose recommendations for adoption by a governing body, like a city council or county commission.

The bill hearing was longer than two hours, with a handful of public commenters in support and the majority speaking in opposition.

Local public health officials across Montana have faced pushback on restrictions intended to stem the coronavirus’ spread. Protestors stood outside Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley’s house for nearly three weeks opposing local mandates requiring masks and limiting business operating hours.

On behalf of the Association of Montana Public Health Officials, Kelley testified during the committee meeting that House Bill 121 would confuse public health responses and potentially create disagreements between city and county elected officials.

“The legislation is divorcing the responsibility for protecting public health, which would still rest with local boards of health, from the authority to take important actions to do that," Kelley said.

Kelley said board of health members are already accountable to the public through the elected officials who appoint them.

The Local Government Committee has not yet voted on House Bill 121.