Montana lawmakers delay in-person meetings after virus case
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Legislature will postpone floor sessions and not meet in person after a “member of the government affairs community” tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Thursday evening press release.
The individual who tested positive was not a lawmaker, according to Senate GOP spokesperson Kyle Schmauch. A contact tracer working for the Legislature will reach out to people who were in close contact to the individual, according to the statement.
In the meantime, Friday floor sessions of the Senate and House were canceled and scheduled committee meetings will be held virtually.
Six lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the legislative session began in early January, but this marks the first time the legislative COVID-19 panel has elected to cancel in-person meetings of lawmakers.
Most Republican lawmakers regularly attend in-person meetings inside the capitol without wearing masks while Democratic lawmakers are most often seen wearing masks. Several Democratic lawmakers have elected to participate in the session remotely, but have increasingly participated in person as vaccine availability has increased and the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state has decreased.
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte and his wife Susan Gianforte both contracted COVID-19 two weeks ago. On Thursday the governor was photographed in his office in the capitol signing a bill along with Rep. Mike Hopkins and Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras – all without wearing masks.
COVID-19 panel chair Sen. Jason Ellsworth, a Republican, said in a statement that the decision to postpone in-person meetings was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
“This is exactly why we planned for a hybrid legislative session providing the option for both legislators and members of the public to participate remotely and also formed the COVID Panel,” Ellsworth said in a statement. “We planned for this possibility and are taking steps to move forward safely and responsibly.”