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Town Crier “Briefs from the Region” (1) – 7/10/20

Montana’s rodeo season is underway just as the state experiences the largest spike in COVID-19 cases to date: 96 on Thursday, July 9. Organizers for gatherings, including rodeos, which draw crowds in the hundreds, are required to submit a detailed plan outlining the prevention measures they are taking to reduce the risk of transmission. While the current reopening phase recommends group gatherings of 50 or fewer, it is not an enforceable order and is documented on a complaint-driven process—meaning an event has to receive a complaint of documented behavior that is putting others at risk of transmission before action can be taken. It’s a system that doesn’t allow anyone—health officials or law enforcement—any real level of authority.

The Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede rodeo in Roosevelt County is at the center of these struggles, a situation that involves a multitude of factors, including separating out-of-state rodeo contestants and the Fort Peck Tribal Board withdrawing their participation and encouraging tribal members not to attend. “My attitude and my legal opinion has been we still have the First Amendment, which says you have the right to peaceably assemble, period,” said County Attorney Austin Knudsen, who is also running for state attorney general on the Republican ticket. “It doesn’t say you have the right to peaceably assemble unless we were afraid someone’s going to get sick.”

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