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Montana 2021 Legislature

Montana Lawmakers Advance Coronavirus Relief Bills With Grant Funding Restrictions

Montana Republican Rep. Frank Garner discusses House Bill 632 during a House Appropriations Committee meeting on March 29, 2021.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Montana Republican Rep. Frank Garner discusses House Bill 632 during a House Appropriations Committee meeting on March 29, 2021.

Montana lawmakers have advanced a first draft spending plan for more than $2 billion coming to the state from the latest federal stimulus package. Republicans are seeking to limit funding to cities and counties with some public health restrictions, like mask mandates, in place.

House Bill 632 creates a plan for how the state will distribute money for business grants, health services and local government spending, among other things. It passed the House Appropriations Committee by a 16-8 vote Monday.

Before the vote, Kalispell Republican Rep. Frank Garner said the proposal is a work in progress.

“Today we’re making a choice. And I hope that choice does not cause us to avoid doing good because we haven’t met perfect,” Garner said.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern about components of the spending plan, but Garner encouraged lawmakers to advance the policy as it faces a deadline next week to pass out of the House.

In committee, Republicans added a provision to the bill that would allow the state to cut local government grants by 20% if they have stricter coronavirus regulations than the state.

“I find it ironic that there could be local governments that are imposing strict covid protocol, which hurts the economy, which hurts the people, and now we want more tax money to bail that out,” said Kallispell Republican Matt Regier.

Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy of Crow Agency, slammed the provision, noting new COVID-19 variants were recently found in Montana.

“Cities and counties are being extorted to take off their regulations. And the problem that I see with this is that we’re not done yet. And people can get infected,” Stewart Peregoy said.

House Bill 632 would establish commissions to review grant applications and make recommendations to the governor. It now moves to the full House for debate.