HELENA — The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would strike a section from Montana law saying law enforcement officers commit a misdemeanor if they deny enforcing state or county health orders.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter testified for Senate Bill 67. He says current law creates tension between officers and health boards

“It creates an unnecessary adversarial relationship between a government appointee and elected officials,” Slaughter said. “It just does. It’s not necessary.” 

Sheriff Slaughter emphasized that his office and the City-County Health Department in Great Falls have a good relationship, but said that he and his deputies couldn’t keep up with the demands of both his community and its health board.

Travis McAdam from the Montana Human Rights Network spoke in opposition to the bill, and said that he worried that by changing the law, legislators would undermine the authority of county health boards to make decisions during emergencies.

“We really believe that healthcare professionals should be guiding policies and recommendations when it comes to public health, and not sheriffs,” McAdam said.

He said he worried that without the specter of criminal punishment, law enforcement will become apathetic toward local health officials. 

The bill is one of a slew of bills changing or limiting the powers of health boards. House Bill 121 would give elected county officials the power to change county health board mandates, while House Bill 145 would entirely remove the power of health boards to issue those mandates.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.


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