The job description of a legislator involves two fundamental elements. The first is about crafting legislation, debating bills and finally voting, yea or nay. The second and equally important element concerns representing voters, listening to their concerns and educating them on the issues of the day. One of the most important issues confronting the 2021 Legislature is how we will meet during a pandemic. I drafted this op-ed for the Missoula County Democratic legislative caucus to explain our deep concerns with how the Republican majority is ignoring the best scientific advice on how to keep legislators, state employees and citizen safe during the legislative session.
Missoula Democratic Legislative Delegation Op-ed
MONTANANS NEED COVID-19 SAFEGUARDS AT THE 202A LEGISLATURE
As Democratic members of the Montana House of Representatives and the Montana Senate, we have all been working hard to prepare for the upcoming legislative session that will convene in Helena on January 4 2021. This preparation, however, has been warped by some Republican legislators that are pushing to turn the Legislature into a COVID-19 super spreader event. We see no reason other than partisan politicking why the Legislature needs to risk the well-being of our communities’ businesses and Montana citizens who want to participate in their government.
Across the state, Montanans want a robust economy and good, high paying jobs. One of the surest paths to this goal is limiting the spread of COVID-19 so businesses don’t have to close their doors when workers get sick. Republicans’ refusal to adopt common-sense health measures risks creating a COVID-19 capitol in Helena from which the pandemic will spread – not just in the capitol building itself, but across the state as legislators and citizens come and go from the session. This will hurt Montana’s economy and stunt job growth.
Let’s be clear what is happening. While public health officials in Montana have been clear in urging masks and six feet of social distancing for all public settings the Republican caucus has refused to follow even these minimum standards. While Republicans have suggested they will allow remote voting, this will only happen after all legislators are forced to attend the first days of the session in person to vote for the rules that will govern the 2021 Legislative session. Many Republicans have affirmed they will not wear masks at any point during the session.
Republicans often speak of personal freedom when refusing to follow the public health safeguards that have been put in place during the pandemic. But with freedom comes responsibility. We are all free to buy and carry guns but not to handle them irresponsibly and put others at risk. Republicans are certainly free to do what they want in their private caucus meetings but once they propose rules for the most public of buildings – the Montana Capitol – they have a responsibility to all Montana citizens to do the best job they can in providing a safe and healthy working environment.
With vaccines becoming available soon, why are Republicans needlessly risking the lives and livelihoods of the Montanans they are elected to represent? Partisan politics aside, masking and social distancing are not heavy burdens but simply steps to limits a disease that has hurt businesses across the state, sickened 77000 of our fellow citizens and killed 865 Montanans.
Establishing masking and social distancing requirements are responsible steps to take even as we exercise our freedom to assemble for the 2021 Montana Legislative session Democrats will continue to work for a safe environment in the Capitol building that protects Montanans and keeps our economy open.
Senator Bryce Bennett, SD 50 Rep. Willis Curdy, HD 98
Senator-elect Ellie Boldman, SD 45 Rep.-elect Tom France, HD 94
Senator Shane Morigeau, SD 48 Rep. Connie Keogh, HD 91
Senator-elect Shannon O’Brien, SD 46 Rep. Marilyn Marler, HD 90
Senator Diane Sands, SD 49 Rep. Andrea Olsen, HD 100
Rep. Katie Sullivan, HD 89
Rep.-elect Danny Tenenbaum, HD 95
Rep.-elect Mark Thane, HD 95