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New law invalidates Whitefish mask ordinance

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | May 10, 2021 5:00 PM

Whitefish's mask ordinance is null and void after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill prohibiting certain kinds of local health rules that affect businesses' bottom lines. But any business in the state may still require face coverings if they so choose.

Gianforte quietly signed House Bill 257 on Friday, invalidating mask mandates that were in effect in Whitefish as well as Lewis and Clark and Gallatin counties.

The new law prohibits cities, counties, local health boards and health officers from compelling businesses to enforce emergency health requirements and turn away customers who don't comply, including those who refuse to wear face coverings. It also prohibits local governments from taking any "retributive action" against businesses for noncompliance with such ordinances, including fines, civil lawsuits and criminal charges.

Supporters of the bill said it protects businesses from overzealous emergency rules. Whitefish city leaders said the measure strips them of local control and options for mitigating serious public health threats.

"Many of the bills during this legislative session are an overreach by the state government limiting local control," Mayor John Muhlfeld said in a news release Saturday. "As we know, Montana is vast and our communities and our challenges are unique. This is another example of this legislative session's narratives that contradict this fact and leave local governments with more challenges after a difficult year."

The release continued: "While the city has lost its ability to regulate best health practices due to this law, businesses should know that they still reserve the right to require face coverings. The city of Whitefish strongly encourages businesses to continue to require face coverings to protect employees and patrons in accordance with CDC guidelines."

The city also is promoting public health measures at whitefishcovidcares.com and sharing flyers for businesses asking patrons to don face coverings.

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4439 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com

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