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City of Helena looking at workaround to comply with new laws limiting health boards

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 19:00:20-04

HELENA — At Wednesday’s City of Helena administrative meeting, a key topic discussed was who should function as the “local governing body” for purposes of approving health regulations applicable to the City of Helena in the immediate future.

The 2021 Montana Legislature passed House Bills 257 and 121 which limited the authority of local health officials and health boards. Health boards had been able to implement health-related restrictions on their own, but the new laws now require restrictions to come from a “local governing body.”

In Helena, it is a joint city-county board with unelected members, meaning they can’t function as a governing body.

The supported recommendation by city staff is an Interlocal Agreement so that the Lewis and Clark County Board of County Commissioners is considered the “local governing body” for approving Board of Health recommended regulations. Staff believed this to be the easiest workaround.

Alternatively, the city could create a new governing body or establish its own health department, which staff didn’t believe was feasible given the need to resolve the issue quickly.

Mayor Wilmot Collins said he was uncomfortable with removing city involvement.

City staff are going to meet with the county and will look into what other local governments in Montana are doing to comply with the new laws before a final recommendation is presented to Mayor Collins and the Helena City Commission for a final decision.

The Civic Center was also on Wednesday’s agenda. Staff recommended the commission have operations and management of the Civic Center be maintained by the city.with an advisory board formed whose focus is use of the Civic Center.

The city will be meeting with the Civic Center Steering Committee for further discussion on the matter.

The last topic for discussion was the Housing Trust Fund. Staff recommended that an Advisory Committee be created for the purpose of providing recommendations to the Commission on what projects should be funded.

While there was some discussion on the size of that committee, the commission present agreed it was the right direction forward.