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Legislative hearing highlights local government impacts of COVID-19

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 10:23:42-04

HELENA — Montana lawmakers heard an update Thursday on how COVID-19 has impacted local government operations around Montana.

Leaders from the Montana Association of Counties and the Montana League of Cities and Towns spoke before the Local Government Interim Committee, during a meeting over videoconference.

MACO executive director Eric Bryson said the pandemic forced local government leaders to change many aspects of their operations, from the deadlines for permit applications to the operating hours for some offices. In many cases, those changes required state requirements to be relaxed. He thanked Gov. Steve Bullock for directives allowing greater flexibility.

“It is interesting how prescriptive the statute is as it relates to the Legislature telling local governments how they have to operate, what their hours of operation look like, what their work beats look like – and then having all that having to be waived in terms of a pandemic response,” said Bryson.

Leaders praised cooperation among cities and counties, and between local governments and the state. Tim Burton, executive director of the League of Cities and Towns, highlighted one example – the creation of a system that notified first responders when they were responding somewhere that a person might have tested positive for COVID-19. He said the state, cities and counties and public health leaders all played a role.

“There’s a very complicated set of laws that protect your medical privacy – and at the same time, how do we provide protection for our frontline emergency responders?” said Burton. “We were able to work through that.”

Bryson said cities and counties are taking every step they can to keep their operations going.

“Although there have been bumps in the road, it is amazing in my mind how well your local elected officials have gotten along, have adapted and have tried to keep the conduct of public business as normal and as rational as possible through this pandemic,” he said.