By Brad Tschida, House Majority Leader (R-Missoula)

Coronavirus is not going to disappear anytime soon. There is no vaccine or cure. The primary goal of the current public health and safety measures have been to slow the spread of the virus so our healthcare system would not collapse. In Montana, we have succeeded.

Since the beginning of this crisis, a massive federal aid package was passed to ease the burden on as many Americans and businesses as possible – but it is a solution to the economic crisis we now face. In addition to our public health and economic crises we face, there is a third crisis no one is talking about: a crisis of confidence.

With no end in sight and the increasingly heavy hand of state government, Montanans face the crushing effects of shutting down more than an economy – but society as we know it. Schools have been operating temporary orders, barbershops have closed, and our agriculture industry is hurting. This may be our current reality, but it does not have to be our future.

As media-driven fear and panic created runs on basic items and the economy went into a freefall, government was quick to react. One conversation that has not occurred has been how we proceed. With close to half of our state budget coming from federal money, it is no surprise that Montana’s economy cannot withstand a government-mandated standstill. Now more than ever, we need local control. Montanans can, and will, rise to the challenge of re-opening Montana for business where safely and responsibly possible.

Everyday Montanans and businesses still in operation have shown they can effectively operate under tough circumstances. We have seen a wave of innovation with businesses changing their production to meet needs for things such as hand sanitizer and people making their own personal protection equipment (PPE). Now, the only thing stopping them from unleashing their full potential is government.

With the largest fiscal note in Montana history, the legislature passed Medicaid Expansion, yet one major hospital laid off 600 employees. It is time to get these people back to work by opening our hospitals to treating all medical and surgical patients possible. Distance learning has benefitted many students, but it cannot serve all. It is time to allow our high school seniors and special education students to return to the classroom and give school districts the choice to open back up. We are at risk of starting an underground economy for regulated industries such as barbers, nail salons, and more. It is time to open our businesses as long as they can provide for physical distancing and maintain proper sanitation. We can, and must do this.

State government was not designed to solve this problem, and the long-term solutions will not be formulated in its hallways. Individuals, local school leaders, local businesses, local hospitals, and local elected officials who know their neighbors they serve will solve this crisis.

Together we can, and must, have a strategy to activate a real transition. Together, we the people will START Montana.

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