Governor Awaits Arrival of SB65 to Lift Mask Mandates
Governor Greg Gianforte signed on Wednesday the bill that he said had to pass in order for him to lift the mask mandate. It passed both houses of the state legislature, and as of press time, an announcement was expected from the Governor word about lifting the mask mandate.
SB-65 eliminates liability for businesses regarding contracting COVID-19, about which the Governor wanted assurances before lifting the mask mandate. Besides passage of HB-65, he also wants to make sure that vaccinations are being widely distributed in the state.
The bill passed final reading in the House on a 64-36 vote. It passed the Senate 32-18.
SB 65 was introduced by State Senator Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls.
Prior to the start of the Legislative session, Montana NFIB reported in their survey of business owners, 96.8 percent said protection from frivolous lawsuits due to COVID-19 should be a top legislative priority.
Besides addressing the potential liability of a wide range of owners or supervisors the bill addresses the issue of requiring vaccinations, stating, “If a federal or state statute, regulation, order, or public health guidance related to covid-19 recommends or requires a vaccine, an individual is not required to receive a vaccine and a person is not required to ensure employees or agents are vaccinated to meet the standard of care.”
A business or organization, health care provider or manufacturer cannot be held liable for causing death or injury of an individual unless it is through an act or omission that constitutes gross negligence, willful and wonton misconduct or intentional harm.
Concerns that the legislation could wind up boomeranging into forcing compliance with health orders or mandates, which are not currently enforceable, is allayed with specific wording that says a person “may assert as an affirmative defense” that they took reasonable measures consistent with a federal or state statue”, etc., but “This section may not be construed to impose liability on a person for failing to comply” with such laws or regulations.
At third reading, the draft showed that language had been struck out pertaining to “safe harbor” for situations in which the premises owner was in “compliance with regulations, executive order, or public health guidance,” indicating that that clause aimed at enforcing compliance had been rejected by legislators.
The bill further makes clear, “A government order, regulation, or PUBLIC HEALTH guidance related to covid-19 may not create and may not be construed to create a new cause of action against any person….”
It also states that a person is not required to ensure that others comply with mandates or orders to wear masks. Nor — even if it is mandated by one public entity or another — are they required to conduct temperature checks before allowing a person to enter a premises if the individual refuses to allow a check.
The bill is not retroactive, meaning it doesn’t shield businesses from lawsuits regarding situations that occurred earlier in the pandemic.