- Associated Press - Monday, March 29, 2021

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s House Appropriations Committee has moved forward with a bill to allocate about $2 billion in federal stimulus money, including financial penalties for local governments, tribes and schools that have stricter COVID-19 guidelines than the state.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the statewide mask mandate on Feb. 12. State law allows cities and counties to have stricter guidelines and several still have mask mandates while some continue to limit the sizes of gatherings and business operating hours.

The appropriation bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell, calls for a 20% reduction in grants awarded to cities, counties, tribes and schools that are still enforcing mask mandates or other health guidelines.

Democratic Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy of Crow Agency argued Monday that “cities and counties are being extorted” to lift their regulations when they want to protect their people and wait until more people are vaccinated.

Republican Rep. Matt Regier said he finds it ironic that local governments can impose strict COVID-19 protocols that hurt the economy, but then ask for tax money to bail them out.

The measure passed the appropriations committee 16-8 on Monday. Most of those voting no opposed the deficit spending. Stewart Peregoy also opposed the measure.

It is expected to be heard in the House on Tuesday.

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