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Billings business leaders speak with Gov. Bullock about state's COVID-19 response

Billings business leaders speak with Gov. Bullock about state's COVID-19 response

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Gov. Steve Bullock heard from business leaders in Billings this week, listening to their questions and concerns on a conference call organized by the Billings Chamber of Commerce. 

A handful of business owners openly expressed their support for closing and keeping closed drinking establishments, restaurants with dine-in areas and other businesses that attract large groups of people. 

Others wanted to know how the state would classify essential services and what Bullock thought of businesses reopening on Easter, a move suggested by President Donald Trump on Tuesday. 

In regards to Trump, Bullock said he didn't know what the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state would look like in two or three weeks.

What's important right now, he said, are "the actions we take to slow the spread of the disease and to flatten the curve." He reemphasized the importance for state residents to practice social distancing and to avoid unnecessary contact with people.

The Home Builders Association of Billings had specific questions about how postponed planning meetings and public hearings in Billings will impact the building industry. State law in most cases requires that before building and other permits are issued a public hearing must be held. 

Bullock directed those questions to local officials.

In Billings, public hearings are still being held. City Council met remotely on Monday night; their meeting was broadcast online and on Community Channel 7. For those action items that required a public hearing or public comment, the city had residents call into the meeting where they interacted in real time with council members. 

Bullock addressed the question of essential services, explaining that in many ways what's essential "is in the eye of the beholder." The state has yet to issue an order requiring all businesses to close or for residents to shelter in place where an exemption for essential services would need to be made. 

If that happens, the state would then issue guidelines for which businesses constitute essential services, he said.  

Finally, talk turned to resources the state could make available to local communities to help businesses recover once the crisis was over. Bullock said a lot of that will depend on what types of resources come down from the federal government once a stimulus package is completed by Congress. 

Once that happens, he said a healthy recovery will depend greatly on the state working closely with local communities. He then emphasized the importance of remaining optimistic.

"Things will get back to normal," he said. 

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