The Sidney Herald is concluding its three-part series on a town hall meeting held by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte. Gianforte talked about, the legalization of marijuana, law enforcement issues, healthcare and COVID-19 vaccinations in particular, encouraging the public to get vaccinated but also stating it will not be mandated in Montana.
The governor was asked about the Corps of Engineers’ handling of the water levels on the Missouri River, stating 22% of the sugar beet supply for Sidney Sugars come from areas dependent on the river’s water level. According to Sidney Sugars General Manager David Garland, the plant would not be able to survive if that acreage was no longer available for beet crops.
Gianforte suggested a member of his staff who handles natural resources policies, Mike Freeman, connect with Garland on the issue.
Garland was also concerned about the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for entities with more than 100 people.
“It’s in conflict with Montana law which says you cannot ask for a person’s vaccination status. Just to be clear, we have a crisis. We are seeing an increase. We just deployed National Guard people to Sidney to help at the hospital. Government has an obligation to educate and communicate. I just don’t think we have the purview to mandate. We need to protect our personal liberties and the reality is, you look across the country and see what’s happening, mandates don’t work,” said Gianforte The governor said there were increases in infections in states with mandates and increases in states without mandates.
“I do know what does work. Nine out of 10 people going into the hospital right now have not been vaccinated. We’re not going to mandate vaccinations but I would encourage everyone to talk to their doctor and if they haven’t been vaccinated to consider getting vaccinated to take the load off our hospitals. It’s a personal choice,” said Gianforte.
He said there was going to be a test case in court in which a court would decide on mandatory vaccinations. “There’s a clear conflict in what the Biden administration is proposing and what the law is as passed by the legislature and signed into law by me here in Montana,” said Gianforte.
He also said his office had repealed most of the mandates put in place by the previous administration but hd to be careful. “I do not want to exceed my own authority.”
Gianforte was also asked about lawsuits being filed claiming HB702 was unconstitutional and if there was a possibility that HB 702 had any unintentional consequences that had not been intended. The governor replied, “It’s constitutional. If it were not I would not have signed it and we’re going to enforce Montana law.”
Gianforte then talked about permitting requirements in the state and saying that in reviewing permits at DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) for sewer systems and 100% of them were initially rejected. “When we dug into it we found that the list of things that were needed on the application on the website was different than the list of things the group was using to analyze the permit,” said the governor. “We fixed it.”
When asked about ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds for agriculture, Gianforte said there was a separate fund for agriculture and that ranchers and farmers should continue to watch for those funds to be released.
Gov. Gianforte was then asked about the rise in assaults on police officers, stating assaults and resisting arrest incidents were starting to rise in the rural parts of the state as well.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a silver bullet. We need to respect people who put the badge on. I think all of us need to back the blue, and there should be zero tolerance for this,” said Gianforte. “I don’t know how to fix this. You’re on the front line. If you have specific suggestions on what the state can do, please contact me.” Gianforte also said the state needs to be sure police departments, sheriff’s offices and jails have the resources they need to perform their job.
Gianforte also addressed the newly passed law legalizing marijuana in Montana stating he was against legalization but had to respect the will of the voters. The governor said that it allows each community to make decisions on how it is implemented in their area in relation to the sale of recreational marijuana.
Governor Gianforte stayed overnight in the area and toured Sidney Health Center the following morning but did not make any specific remarks during the tour.