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Bill Would Exempt Law Enforcement From Enforcing Public Health Guidelines

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter (right) thanks Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls (left), for sponsoring Senate Bill 67, which would remove penalties for law enforcement failing to enforce local health directives, at a meeting of the Montana Sen
Austin Amestoy
UM Legislative News Service

Montana lawmakers are bringing a slew of bills this session to modify the power of local health officers in a declared state of emergency, like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One bill introduced this week would remove legal penalties for law enforcement who refuse to enforce public health orders.

Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Great Falls, introduced a bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that would protect law enforcement officers from being charged with a misdemeanor if they fail to carry out a health officer’s request for assistance enforcing public health rules. Current law allows for that punishment. 

“What we’re really doing here is removing some language that has never been enforced, but nonetheless, I think it puts law enforcement really in a bad bind,” Fitzpatrick said.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter was among several county sheriffs that testified that the current law hasn’t been an issue yet, but that it could be. 

“It creates an unnecessary adversarial relationship between a government appointee and elected officials,” he said.

Travis McAdam with the Montana Human Rights Network opposed the bill. 

“We worry that this bill undermines the authority of county health officers to address public health situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A handful of bills looking to modify the authority of local health officers and the executive branch during a declared state of emergency are also making their way through the Legislature

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