Legislature postpones Friday floor sessions after positive COVID-19 test

COVID-19 panel: Not yet clear who was close contact with lobbyist who contracted virus

By: - April 15, 2021 6:42 pm

A still picture of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 (Photo by PXhere, used by Creative Commons license).

The Legislature’s COVID-19 panel announced Thursday evening that floor sessions Friday would be postponed and committees would have the option to meet virtually after a lobbyist at the Capitol contracted the virus.

“The Legislature’s contact tracer requires time to do her work, so legislative leadership has made the decision to postpone Friday’s floor sessions out of an abundance of caution,” a statement from legislative leadership said. “As the Legislature’s COVID-19 panel just became aware of this information, it is not yet known which lawmakers will be contact traced or if there will be any positive tests among lawmakers.”

Six lawmakers have tested positive for the virus throughout the session, but none of those results led to a significant disruption in legislative activity.

At the time the news went out, at least one committee, Senate Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was meeting in person, while a floor below a series of local wineries were holding a mixer for legislators and staff. Several lawmakers had not yet heard about the positive test in question or the possibility of postponing tomorrow’s floor session when contacted by the Daily Montanan.

“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,” said Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, the chair of the COVID-19 panel, in a statement. The panel was formed at the beginning of the session to draft rules concerning the virus and legislative conduct but only met a handful of times and resisted putting any mandates in stone.

The Legislature was initially planning to pass or dispatch most remaining bills in time for a Friday transmittal deadline, but as neither chamber will gavel in tomorrow, it will not count as a legislative day and the deadline will instead be next week, a spokesman for the House GOP said.

At least one committee, a special select committee formed this week to investigate judicial misconduct as part of an encompassing legal battle, will meet virtually, the spokesman said. It is not clear if this will have any effect on a deadline for the state’s Supreme Court justices to appear before the committee under a subpoena order next Monday.

“For committees that were previously scheduled for tomorrow, 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,” a spokesman for the Senate GOP said. “The Legislature is working on eliminating the normal Zoom registration deadline for tomorrow’s committees that choose to meet.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.