HELENA — The Montana Legislature is canceling floor sessions on Friday after a lobbyist tested positive for COVID-19, MTN News has learned.
It's the first time in the 2021 session that the Legislature has canceled a floor session because of a COVID-1`9 infection.
Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Ellsworth, the COVID-19 Panel Chair and a deputized public health official, said the postponement was made to allow the Legislature's contact tracer time to work, because the infected person may have had multiple contacts at the session.
Ellsworth said the infected person is a "member of the government-affairs community," but MTN News confirmed that he or she is a lobbyist working at the session. The person was not identified.
Ellsworth also said that the few committees scheduled to meet Friday can meet virtually, if they choose. The Legislature currently is scheduled to come back to work at the Capitol on Monday.
“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’re nearly done with the 2021 session and outside of a handful of isolated COVID-19 cases, the session to this point has progressed very smoothly and safely. We planned for this possibility and are taking steps to move forward safely and responsibly.”
The session's 90th and final day is May 11, but lawmakers have been saying they hope to wrap things up early, in the week of April 26.
For committees previously scheduled for Friday, members of the public should check the committee's schedule on the website to see if the committee will be meeting virtually and sign up to testify via Zoom. The Legislature is working on eliminating the normal Zoom registration deadline for Friday's committees that choose to meet. Montanans can also always submit written testimony to committees.
Capitol staff are already following existing sanitization protocols.
Six lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the session: Reps. Ross Fitzgerald, Becky Beard, Brian Putnam, David Bedey, Fiona Nave and one unnamed lawmaker.