GALLATIN COUNTY — Phased reopening for businesses and face covering rules have been some of the most hotly debated discussions during Board of Health meetings in Gallatin County over the last year.
Both topics are on the agenda for Wednesday, and we’re learning the Board of Health may no longer have the authority to enforce the local rules anyways.
“I don’t think anybody knows right now what authority the Board of Health has or what authority even local government has in health,” said Gallatin County Commissioner and Gallatin City-County Board of Health member Joe Skinner.
Skinner says Wednesday’s meeting was originally designed to either extend, let expire, or get rid of local rules about face coverings and phased reopening of businesses.
But bills from the Montana Legislature sent the board in a different direction.
“From what I understand is, we’re not making any decision on the mandate because we have no jurisdiction to do that. So from what I’ve heard, those are off the table,” said Skinner.
The authority local health boards, counties, and cities have to enforce local emergency rules is up in the air because of House Bill 257, which the Gallatin City-County Health Department says they expect to see signed into law by Governor Gianforte.
Commissioner Skinner has been on the Board of Health from the start of the pandemic and for the last few months has often been the sole voice advocating to lift COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m not totally disappointed that those mandates are going to go away,” said Skinner.
“I am a little concerned about what that means long-term in the next pandemic or the next environmental health situation.”
On Tuesday afternoon, we checked in with local businesses to see how they felt about COVID-19 restrictions like mask rules being lifted.
Many were unaware that the Board of Health could be losing authority to implement COVID-19 rules.
However, some said it would likely help business and make customers happy.
The Board of Health will also be discussing the recruitment process for a new Health Officer.
In March, the Gallatin City-County Health Department announced Health Officer Matt Kelley accepted a new position as chief executive officer of the Montana Public Health Institute.
Kelley is expected to step down in June, and the Board of Health will appoint someone to fill as interim once Kelley leaves if a permanent replacement hasn't been chosen by then.
Kelley will continue to serve as Health Officer, and the interim would only step in after he leaves and if someone else hasn't been hired yet.