Concealed Carry Bill Passes House, Moves to Senate
A controversial bill that expands where concealed weapons are allowed passed the Montana House of Representatives Thursday. Legislators voted along party lines, with 66 Republicans voting for the bill, and 31 Democrats voting against it. Three lawmakers did not vote.
House Bill 102 allows Montanans to carry a concealed firearm without a permit anywhere they would normally be allowed to open carry, including inside banks.
During a tense debate in the House Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, said having a firearm in a bank would not be a problem.
“I didn’t feel that banks in this current day and age are a target for robberies,” Berglee said.
Data from the FBI shows that just less than 4% of banks — 3,033 banks — were robbed in 2018, according to the most recent count.
Under the bill, permit holders would also be able to have a concealed weapon inside state government buildings, including the Montana Capitol.
Berglee said the reason for the bill was clear.
“It’s to enhance the safety of people by expanding their legal ability to provide for their own defense by reducing or eliminating government mandated places where only criminals are armed,” Berglee said during Wednesday’s debate.
Representative Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, disputed that argument.
“There is simply no reason to invite more guns into public places,” Kelker said. “We need to get out of the way and let our law enforcement officers do their jobs and guarantee all Montanans the right to a safe workplace.”
The bill would also eliminate the Board of Regents’ ability to create gun-free zones on Montana university campuses. Colleges would still be able to set rules about student firearm conduct, and would also be able to ban firearms at events serving alcohol.
Courtesy of James Bradley, Legislative News Service, UM School of Journalism
Lawmakers consider limiting
authority of local health
Wading into a public debate that has grown heated on social media, the House Local Government Committee held a hearing Thursday afternoon for House Bill 121, which would limit the authority of public health officers and health boards, and give elected bodies more power in setting public health policies and orders. The measure is part of a broader effort by Republican lawmakers, telegraphed after the November elections, in response to local health department directives and former Gov. Steve Bullock’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Opponents testified that the measure would insert politics into science-based decision making and potentially slow public health responses during an emergency.
Supporters of the measure said the bill would ensure that overzealous health officers and health boards can be kept in check by voters via elected officials. For example, they said, health orders implemented by some county health boards and health officers that were stricter than statewide mandates were made without citizen input and have harmed small businesses.
“Our elected officials bear the responsibility of taking all factors into account when setting policy. Now, I will grant that at times, elected officials make judgments that are not universally accepted, or that they might even make mistakes. It’s part of living in a free society,” said Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, the proposal’s sponsor. “Under House Bill 121, there are no restrictions on the ability of our public health officials to provide elected officials sound advice, which I cannot help but think would most often be persuasive.”
Under the bill’s provisions, health officers and health boards could still issue health orders during public health emergencies, but elected officials, like county commissioners, could amend or rescind those orders. In non-emergency situations, the bill would remove the power of local health boards to issue orders and require them to instead propose actions, which the elected governing body overseeing them could approve or deny.
Bedey has also sponsored another measure he said is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That measure, House Bill 122, would limit how long emergency and disaster declarations issued by the governor can remain in effect without legislative approval, as well as streamline the convening of a special session of the Legislature so lawmakers can vote to overturn a governor’s emergency orders. Another bill, House Bill 145, sponsored by Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, would strip local health boards of the power to enforce health mandates and issue orders, instead limiting them to making recommendations to elected officials.
While Bedey said he understands concerns from opponents that public health decisions could become politicized, he said that in an extended health crisis like the current one, local public health orders more strict than statewide directives need to be weighed against economic and business impacts.
“Real-world situations and crises often have many more than one, or even two, dimensions that need to be considered,” he said.
Opponents, on the other hand, said the measure would unintentionally lead to politics leaking into decisions about public health, which they said should be made based strictly on science.
“House Bill 121 throws public health squarely into the political arena,” said Jane Webber, a Cascade County commissioner and member of the county’s Board of Health in testimony on Thursday. “Do not place the decisions of our health and your family’s health in the hands of politicians. I am a politician, and I openly acknowledge there are some in politics who are easily swayed … possibly by a phone call, sometimes by a campaign contributor.”
Opponents also said that requiring approval from elected governing bodies, especially when two health entities are involved, as in the case of joint city-county health boards, would add another layer of bureaucracy to decisions that often need to be made quickly. Additionally, they argued, public health officials already have accountability to voters since health board members are appointed by elected officials.
Speaking on behalf of the Association of Montana Public Health Officials, Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said that people in the public health field do the work because they “are almost always motivated by the spirit of public service.” Kelley said the suggestion that public health officers make decisions because they’re “power drunk,” as one bill supporter said Thursday, is wrong.
“Every board of health member and every health officer in the state is pretty worn down right now,” he said. “It is somewhat painful and discouraging to hear of those efforts somewhat demonized by people who are calling us power-thirsty.”
The House Local Government Committee took no action on the bill following Thursday’s testimony.
Courtesy of Montana Free Press, by Chris Aadland
Lincoln County Montana COVID-19 Information
COVID-19 is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). People with COVID-19 may experience mild to severe symptoms including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, body aches, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. People age 65 and older and people with underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are at higher risk of developing serious complications.
The Lincoln County Health Department is working daily to detect and investigate cases of COVID-19 and to provide current and accurate information about COVID-19 in Lincoln County. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 will help to keep schools and businesses open, protect essential services, maintain hospital capacity, and protect the vulnerable.
As of Monday, Jan. 18 there are 1304 total cases in Lincoln County.
27 new cases, 101 active Cases, 1194 recovered cases, 9 deaths, 47 hospitalizations, and 2 current hospitalizations.