Montana Mask Order Causes Local Govt Shutdown
Governor Steve Bullock in March of 2020 issued an emergency order directive that opened the door to quarantine and isolation in Montana. The order issued uses Title 50 of Montana law giving executive power over a declaration of an emergency.
In that authority ingress and egress, including the isolation and control measures in part are founded in the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services on down to local government Health Departments.
In executive order, there were exceptions listed but the directive reached into every business, bringing economic doom across Montana. We have received reports from multiple businesses across Montana, that even after the covid-19 stimulus payments were distributed the economic stability spiraled causing businesses to close their doors.
In Broadwater County, the health board has taken the directive from the governor and modeled it after the demographics and health of the county. In that adaptation, the County Health Officer Dr. Campbell has attended the meetings to stay apprised of their actions as related to the health issues in the county. Under Montana law Dr. Campbell is the authority in matters of health before the county, but it appears that the decisions are made by the board with the health officer there in name only.
On July 15th 2020, Governor Bullock issued an amendment to the original emergency order. In that amendment the governor extended restrictions across Montana counties that have 4 or more active cases of covid-19. The amendment provides that these counties are now subject to a new mask requirement.
Broadwater County officials determined that the order was a law and all citizens in a public setting would be required to wear masks. Even businesses that opposed the original directive and advisory document from Attorney General Tim Fox opposed the new restrictions.
The directive clearly points out the ability of private property owners to protect their rights. That right is spelled out in the directive and extends to property owners the ability to protect the rights of their customers and the safety of the people of Montana.
However it was soon discovered that the directive placed a burden on local law enforcement further stressing local resources. Sheriff Wynn Meehan of Broadwater County stated that there was an additional problem with the directive in that he is unaware of any law on the books to effect a violation against any citizen refusing to wear a mask.
On Monday July 20th 2020, Broadwater Commissioners held their first business meeting since the latest directive amendment was issued. At the beginning of the meeting, Chairman Folkvord provided Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson the floor for public comment.
The comments regarding the covid-19 directive from the governor was outlined by Mr. Swanson. Because the Redoubt News-Montana reporter was at the meeting to record the days decisions on behalf of the people of Broadwater County, his rights were immediately called into question by Mr. Swanson.
Undersheriff Brandon Harris reiterated the call by Attorney Swanson for Ravndal to put on a mask so the business meeting could continue. Mr. Ravndal initially declined with a request to hear from the county commissioners on the matter and requested the right to address the commission after hearing from the commissioners.
Commissioner Folkvord asked Ravndal to put a mask on. Mr. Ravndal attempted to answer with an expectation that he would have the opportunity to raise questions before the board. Without providing an opportunity for him or any other member of the public to weigh in. Folkvord abruptly closed the meeting.
After the meeting was ended there was a direct discussion between the reporter, the undersheriff and the county attorney outside of the building. In that discussion concerns regarding the authority of the directive over the rights of the citizens was repeatedly brought forward by Mr. Ravndal.
Mr. Ravndal repeatedly advised Mr. Swanson and Mr. Harris that his job is to cover the meetings as an investigative journalist for Redoubt News-Montana and is protected under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
Because the reporter is also a citizen of Broadwater County Montana he further advised that his rights are not forfeited under either premise. Swanson disagreed on multiple points and he purported that attending a meeting both as a citizen and a journalist is improper.
Ravndal was advised by Swanson that he could file suit in district court if he disagreed with the order. Mr. Ravndal responded again, asking, “Under what law would the county be specifically citing when depriving the citizens the right to choose to wear or not wear a mask?”
The discussion concluded with Mr. Ravndal asking to either be issued a citation for violating law or make arrangements to resolve the grievances brought forward. After meeting with the county law enforcement later, Ravndal was advised that the effort to get legal clarification from County Attorney Cory Swanson is in order.
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