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Bill limiting governor's emergency power signed into law

Montana State Capitol

The Montana State Capitol in Helena, Mont.

A bill requiring the Montana Legislature to approve any state of emergency that lasts longer than 45 days, while limiting the governor's powers during those events, has been signed into law.

Gov. Greg Gianforte on Friday signed House Bill 230, which requires that any extension of a state of emergency or disaster be put to the Legislature for a vote, or a legislative poll if it occurs between sessions. Extensions are only good for 45 days, and each subsequent extension also requires a majority of the Legislature to sign off on it.

The bill was brought by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, in response to what he and other Republicans have characterized as overreach by Gianforte's predecessor, Democrat Steve Bullock, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democrats adamantly opposed the bill, criticizing it as short-sighted and not sufficiently responsive to potentially shifting realities on the ground. They also objected to the bill treating non-responses to a legislative poll as votes against an emergency extension.

The bill generally passed mostly along party lines as it made its way through the Legislature.

The new law also restricts the types of actions the governor can take during states of emergency and makes explicit broad religious freedoms when they're in effect. It also limits the ability of government to interfere with rent collection during an emergency.

HB 230 becomes effective July 1, at which point it automatically invalidates a trio of previously-signed Senate Bills — 172, 173 and 185.

Montana State News Bureau

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