HELENA — Montana’s Republican legislative leaders issued a strongly worded letter to Democratic Governor Steve Bullock on Tuesday, asking him to rescind some of his coronavirus directives and consider easing restrictions in some counties.
“If businesses remain closed, income and property taxes, fees and other collections will plummet, causing widespread and catastrophic results to people employed in both the public and private sector,” they wrote. “Montanans are helping their neighbors and they do not need unconstitutional commands – just a simple ask from their governor and they will respond.”
The letter, made public Tuesday morning, was signed by the top Republican leaders in the Montana House and Senate, including Senate President Scott Sales of Bozeman and House Speaker Greg Hertz of Polson. It said the governor should “rethink” his response and look to ”re-engage the economy,” perhaps by lifting restrictions in counties with no coronavirus cases or that have had no additional cases lately.
Half of Montana’s 56 counties – most of them rural -- have yet to report a COVID-19 infection yet.
Bullock didn’t immediately respond, although he has scheduled an afternoon press call with reporters. Bullock has issued a series of directives to attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections, including a stay-at-home order on March 26 that requires the closure of non-essential businesses.
Restaurants, bars, gyms and some other businesses had been ordered earlier by local public health officials to close on-site premises and public schools are closed until April 24.
A March 30 directive by the governor also stayed evictions and foreclosures for non-payment of rent and any shut-offs due to nonpayment of utilities. The letter from legislative leaders said those stays are “without constitutional or statutory basis, and that systems already in place allow banks, landlords and other businesses to help those who have lost their job because of the “government-imposed shutdown.”
“Rather than issuing an edict, you could have reached out to rental-management associations, bankers, utility owners and others to encourage them to work with Montanans and help them through short-term cash flow problems,” the letter said.
The letter said Montana’s economy is in a “freefall,” with many businesses closed – but that Bullock has “shielded government agencies from virtually all the same sacrifices demanded on the private sector.” They noted that few state agencies are closed and apparently no public employees furloughed.
As of Tuesday morning (April 14), there have been a total of 399 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Montana, an increase of five since Monday. There have been seven deaths to date, and increase of one since Sunday (source/map). There have been three deaths in Toole County, and one each in Lincoln County, Madison County, Missoula County, and Flathead County.
There have now been 50 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Montana; 24 of those are considered "active hospitalizations." There have been a total of 197 recovered patients. The DPHHS public health lab in Helena has completed 9,234 tests for COVID-19, including 136 tests since Monday's update.
CLOSURES & RESTRICTIONS: Governor Steve Bullock said on Tuesday that he is ordering the extension of the "stay at home" order designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Montana. The original order was issued on March 26. The extension will now last through Friday, April 24.
Bullock also said on Tuesday that public K-12 schools across the state will remain closed through April 24. Other directives previously issued by the governor have also been extended through April 24, including the closure of bars, casinos, and other non-essential businesses; the closure of dine-in service for restaurants; the temporary suspension of evictions and foreclosures; and prohibiting for now shutting off of utilities for nonpayment. RELATED: What businesses are considered "essential?
Bullock also recommended that Montanans wear cloth face masks when they're out in public, such as in grocery stores and pharmacies. He also extended the order requiring incoming travelers to Montana to enter into a 14-day self-quarantine.
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