Governor Gianforte lifts restrictions on small businesses with new directive

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

HELENA – Governor Greg Gianforte issued a new directive to replace several complicated directives related to the pandemic on Jan. 13.

"Improving our response to the pandemic has been my top priority," Gianforte said. "Today, I am issuing a new directive that removes or replaces the cumbersome layers of the existing ones. These new directives are clear. They are practical. They are common sense. And they are easy to understand."

Gianforte’s three-page directive replaces over 25 pages and layers of existing directives. Gianforte’s directive provides clear, easy-to-understand guidance.

The governor’s directive repeals regulations on Montana small businesses, including restrictions on hours of operation and capacity.

Since March 2020, small business owners across Montana have worked to create a safe environment for their employees and customers while keeping their doors open. The new directive acknowledges the diversity of challenges businesses face in this pandemic, and affords them the flexibility to develop and implement appropriate policies based on industry best practices.

"We can reduce the burden on our small business owners while simultaneously protecting the health of Montana workers and customers. These are not mutually exclusive," Gianforte said.

Where industry best practices do not exist, the governor’s directive states that "such policies should be developed and implemented in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations and guidance."

The directive also replaces the 25-person limit on public gatherings with simple guidance that "any public gatherings or events should be managed in a way that accommodates CDC social distancing guidelines."

Montana business leaders welcomed Gianforte’s new guidance.

"We know that the bar, restaurant, and hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard during this pandemic. By lifting the restrictions placed on indoor seating, removing limits on hours of operation, and eliminating capacity limits, these businesses will begin to operate normally again. Montanans will be back to work, and our economy will be one step further into recovery," Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce said.

"This is a big deal for taverns, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses. I appreciate Gov. Gianforte’s decision to take a more thoughtful approach," said Mary Jane Heisler, president of the Montana Tavern Association.

Steve Wahrlich, board member of Montana Lodging and Hospitality added, "The hospitality sector of Montana’s economy is greatly appreciative of Gov. Gianforte’s actions today. His concise plan will help businesses move forward, while also working to protect our customers and workers. We think this is a step to starting off the new year in the right direction."

Ronda Wiggers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) agreed: "We are very appreciative that Gov. Gianforte understands that every small business is different. Allowing each business to follow best practice safety protocol that works for them, their employees, and their customers will allow Montana’s economy to begin to recover." 

In a press conference last week, Gianforte provided a path to rescinding the statewide mask mandate. First, the most vulnerable Montanans are being vaccinated. Second, the legislature sends to his desk a measure to protect businesses and schools from lawsuits if they make a good faith effort to protect individuals from the spread of coronavirus and follow clear public health guidelines.