County Attorney Weighs in on Legality of Masking Ordinance
“We’re hearing a lot of people say, ‘well I have a Constitutional right to not wear a mask and you’re infringing on my liberties,” said Pabst from her office in the Missoula County Courthouse. “If you look closely at the Montana Constitution, it talks about rights and specifically talks about corresponding responsibilities, and that’s the part that people aren’t talking about is the responsibility aspect and that part is there for the benefit and the lives of everybody else.”
Pabst specifically delineated the Montana laws that grant the health officer such broad powers.
There are three types of local health boards: 1. City, 2. County and 3. City-County. Ours is City-County. City-County boards’ authority is set forth at Montana Code Annotated [MCA] 50-2-116. That authority includes the ability to
- “institute isolation and quarantine measures,”
- ensure “abatement of public health nuisances”
- take “other public health measures as allowed by law”
- “protect the public from the introduction and spread of communicable disease or other conditions of public health importance, including through actions to ensure the removal of filth or other contaminants that might cause disease or adversely affect public health”
- “supervise or make inspections for conditions of public health importance and issue written orders for compliance or for correction, destruction, or removal of the conditions”
The Missoula City-County Health Officer under MCA 50-2-118 has the authority to:
- “make inspections for conditions of public health importance and issue written orders for compliance or for correction, destruction, or removal of the condition;
- “take steps to limit contact between people in order to protect the public health from imminent threats, including but not limited to ordering the closure of buildings or facilities where people congregate and canceling events”
The new mask requirement is both a rule under 116 and an order under 118, utilizing the board’s and the health officer’s powers. Here are links to the full text of those statutes:
The mandatory masking order was unanimously adopted by the County Board of Health on Thursday and was praised by many public officials, including Mayor Engen, UM President Seth Bodnar, and County Commissioner Josh Slotnick.
Hundreds of negative comments have poured in on the KGVO Facebook page regarding the passage of the masking ordinance, triggering the comments by County Attorney Pabst.