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Planning for the 2021 Legislature in a pandemic

Planning for the 2021 Legislature in a pandemic
Posted at 10:43 AM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 12:43:46-05

As the dust settles from this week's election, planning is now in full swing for Montana's upcoming 2021 Legislature, now less than two months away.

There are many questions still unanswered regarding COVID protocols for the session, including how much can been done in person, and how much remotely by computer.

Veteran Billings lawmakers Kathy Kelker and Bill Mercer, both re-elected on Tuesday, say the plans for the session are still a work in progress.

"There is some consideration of doing a hybrid, with perhaps doing a Zoom type thing with the committees," said Kelker. "Then when it's time to vote, we would have the voting in a bigger space so it can be distanced."

Kelker serves on the Legislature's Interim Committee on Law and Justice. She told MTN News she felt conducting virtual meetings worked out well during the pandemic, not just for lawmakers but for the public as well,

"We had really good luck with our virtual meetings," said Kelker. "I don't think we lost anything really. What was nice about it, the public could speak to us from where ever they were. Several people said this is great, I don't have to drive miles and miles to Helena in order to express my opinion."

Mercer feels working remotely will be difficult for lawmakers. As things stand now, he plans to be attend the session in person.

"I think it would be difficult to function as a legislator remotely," said Mercer. "There is just an awful lot of interaction that's going to happen in the building, between the executive branch and the legislative branch with fellow legislators.

Mercer said his expectation is that there will be a large contingent of the legislature who will attend in person.

Lawmakers will be gathering Nov. 17 and 18 to select the leaders for the 2021 session and submit requests for committee assignments. Lawmakers have a choice to either attend those meetings in person or virtually.

Kelker will be serving her fourth term in the Montana House, while Mercer will begin his second term. The 2021 session convenes at noon Jan. 4.