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Montana Legislature Again Postpones Floor Sessions, No Additional COVID-19 Cases As Of Friday

An empty hallway in the Montana Capitol building.
Kevin Trevellyan
Yellowstone Public Radio
Montana lawmakers postponed floor sessions Apr. 16, 2021 to allow time for contact tracing after a lobbyist tested positive for COVID-19 the day prior.

The Montana Legislature will again not hold floor sessions Monday, which will not count as an official legislative day, after a lobbyist tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday.

Senate GOP spokesperson Kyle Schmauch said late Friday eighteen people, including nine legislators, seven staff and two others, had received negative results through the Legislature’s testing program, and that contact tracing is ongoing.

Committees Monday may meet virtually and accept remote comment only.

Schmuach says legislators will participate virtually unless they have “internet issues, tech problems, or other extenuating circumstances.”

Schmauch previously announced lawmakers would also conduct business virtually Friday. Many still worked inside the Capitol building.

A screen grab shows a nearly empty committee room.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Republican members of the Montana Senate Finance and Claims Committee prepare to meet April 16, 2021. Lawmakers postponed floor sessions and most attended committee meetings remotely to allow for contact tracing after a lobbyist tested positive for COVID-19 the day prior.

Typically there’s a ton of activity in the building, with lawmakers, government staff and lobbyists chatting in the hallways and walking around. But Friday was a lot quieter.

To provide time for contact tracing, Schmauch wrote in a Thursday evening email that Friday floor sessions would be cancelled and the Legislature would “not meet in person tomorrow." He also wrote committees may decide to meet remotely.

But the building wasn't totally empty. Several lawmakers were seen working in-person at the Capitol on committee meeting video feeds.

A couple of them, including Republican Reps. Jedidiah Hinkle and Jennifer Carlson, declined to comment on why they were in the building.

Schmauch did not return multiple requests for comment about a handful of Republican senators attending committee meetings in the Capitol on Friday.

Friday afternoon, House GOP spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier said the Capitol is still open, only floor sessions were postponed.

Tom France sits in what looks like an otherwise empty conference room.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Missoula Democratic Rep. Tom France sits in the Montana House Natural Resources Committee Apr. 16, 2021.

Missoula Democratic Rep. Tom France didn’t return a request for comment about attending a committee meeting in-person Friday. House Minority spokesperson Nathan Stein said Democratic leadership was under the impression that the caucus would work remotely.

Six lawmakers are publicly known to have tested positive for COVID-19 since the session began in January. Gov. Greg Gianforte returned to the Capitol this week after a positive test in early April.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.