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Gallatin County health leaders concerned with HB 257

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Posted at 4:59 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 21:45:21-04

BOZEMAN — The 2021 legislative session has ended, but there’s still a lot of questions as far as public health decisions.

“We’re trying to understand the implications of some of the legislation coming out of Helena," said Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley. "I will say in some cases I’m confused. We’re really feeling kind of whip-sawed by some of this.”

Part of House Bill 257 revises the law to stop actions from being made which impede a private business’ ability to conduct business.

House Bill 257, was sponsored by Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, and says businesses cannot be penalized for not following any local ordinance or public-health order that denies customers access to their services.

“It really eliminates any meaningful local control or community-level efforts to control the spread of COVID-19," said Kelley. "The new law seems to move control over those decisions to people in Helena rather than local leaders and that’s concerning.”

If the bill is signed into law, it would void parts of the previous legislation from HB 121.

“It really eliminates any meaningful local control or community-level efforts to control the spread of COVID-19," said Kelley. "The new law seems to move control over those decisions to people in Helena rather than local leaders and that’s concerning.”

“So 121 moved the authority up to the commissions but then 257 removed the authority to create rules from any local government,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane

Overall, local health leaders are concerned because the legislation changes their ability to govern.

“We’re seeing with the advent of this legislation a pretty significant change in activity that’s happening in some of our licensed establishments,” said Kelley.

The board of health is holding a virtual, public meeting Wednesday starting at 7 a.m.

HB 257 is in its final stages of preparation and waiting to be signed by Governor Gianforte.

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