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Montana Lawmakers Advance Bills To Limit Emergency Powers

Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol.

Montana lawmakers are considering limiting local public health and executive powers during a declared state of emergency — authorities highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of those proposals are advancing ahead of a Wednesday deadline.

The House of Representatives on mostly party lines endorsed House Bills 121 and 230, sending them to the Senate for consideration. The two bills are a combination of ideas introduced throughout the first half of the legislative session.

House Bill 121 would give oversight of local health officers and boards of health to local elected leaders. For example, if a county health officer puts in place a countywide restriction on business hours, the local county commission could affirm or rescind that order.

House Bill 230 would give the Legislature more oversight over the executive branch during a state of emergency, and how long a declared state of emergency is in place. The bill says that if the Legislature is not in session, 10 legislators can request the Secretary of State to poll members on whether to call a special session or to record a vote on a proposal.

Both would exempt religious organizations from restrictions put in place during a state of emergency.

Republicans say emergency powers need to be reigned in. Democrats argue the bills will undermine officials’ authority to protect public health.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.