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Lawmakers in Helena are considering a bill to prescribe how federal COVID-19 relief funds will be distributed to local governments. And so they should.

But buried within House Bill 632 is a provision to reduce those funds by 20% to any local government that imposes COVID-related health restrictions “more strict than those imposed by the state.”

Really? If local officials, based on expert advice, see the need to require masks in public or reduced capacity in business to slow down the spread of the virus in a particular area, they are going to be punished by withholding federal dollars?

Considering this GOP-controlled Legislature’s epic assault on local control, we shouldn’t be surprised to see lawmakers stick one more thumb in the eye of local government. But enough is enough. This isn’t just irrationally making the coronavirus pandemic political. It’s just petty vindictiveness.

And it is aimed squarely at Gallatin County.

As the vaccine rollout continues and COVID-19 case numbers decline statewide, Gallatin County is leading all counties in active cases — with more than twice the incidence here than in any other county. Given those numbers, the Gallatin City-County Health Board has wisely continued the countywide mask mandate and other mitigation measures while those measures have been lifted statewide.

Gov. Greg Gianforte and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19 and have been recovering at their home in Bozeman. Hopefully they are doing well and on the mend. But the Republican governor is urged to ask himself: Is this additional interference in local government — your local government — really justified?

He is urged to resolve to veto this legislation in its present form and make his intentions known to lawmakers while they still have time to remove the offending provision from the bill.

The Montana Republican Party has long espoused the principle that the best governing is done at the local level. It’s where elected officials know best what’s best for their communities and where individual voters have the greatest influence.

But now that they have total control in the legislative and executive branches of state government, many of the 2021 Legislature’s measures under consideration or already signed into law intrude into local government in ways that clearly violate party principles.

Gianforte is strongly urged to let lawmakers know he is drawing the line at HB632.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.