Montana House passes one bill on vaccine exemptions, two others fall short

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 6:39 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 12:04:51-05

HELENA — The Montana House considered three bills dealing with exemptions to vaccination requirements. One passed easily in a preliminary vote, but two others were defeated on the floor.

Two of the bills – House Bills 334 and 415 – were introduced by Republican Rep. Jennifer Carlson of Manhattan.

HB 334 would expand which health care providers can sign off on a medical exemption to school immunization requirements, prevent the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services from putting any additional restrictions on those exemptions and stating that students’ exemptions cannot be disclosed. The House endorsed it in a 65-35 vote.

HB 415 would have prohibited state and local governments and businesses from denying someone services or barring them from employment because of their vaccination status, unless they provided exemptions for people who chose not to be vaccinated because of religious or medical reasons. It would also block the use of “immunity passports” – the idea, proposed by some countries during COVID-19, of requiring someone to show proof of vaccination to do certain activities.

“We are asking for the exact same policy that is currently in place and will continue to be in place for every single pre-K to post-secondary student in Montana, to apply to adults,” Carlson said. “You have the right to opt out of a medical procedure.”

However, the vote on the bill was tied, 50-50, meaning it didn’t move forward.

Opponents said HB 415 was too much of an interference for businesses, particularly health care providers.

“What this is basically doing is preventing them from setting the standards of care and the requirements for employment that match the mission of keeping kids safe, but more than anything allow them to exercise their free rights as business owners on their property,” said Rep. Laurie Bishop, a Democrat from Livingston.

Lawmakers also debated House Bill 332, sponsored by Rep. Ed Hill, a Republican from Havre. It would have allowed school students to use homeopathic remedies to meet their immunization requirements, as well as exempting them from vaccination requirements if they had already had a disease and recovered from it. That bill was defeated 43-57.

HB 334 will now move on for a final vote in the House.

Several other bills on vaccination requirements are currently under consideration in the Senate. Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton has introduced Senate Bill 332, which would prohibit the state from requiring foster children to be vaccinated unless specifically approved by the Legislature, and Senate Bill 368, which would let day-care facilities that don’t receive public funding create their own standards for preventing disease spread and require all day cares to offer medical and religious exemptions for immunizations.