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Montana Lawmakers Consider More Protections Against COVID-19 Civil Liability

Rep. Bill Mercer (R) - HD46
Montana Legislature
Rep. Bill Mercer (R) - HD46

Montana lawmakers have advanced a second bill aimed at protecting entities from civil liability related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers gave initial approval to the policy, which would protect government organizations, including public school systems and private health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits unless they exhibit gross negligence in preventing the spread of the virus.

The bill’s passage out of committee follows separate liability protections for private businesses and health care providers that was signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Greg Gianforte. 

Republican Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings is sponsoring the latest proposal, House Bill 435. He said it’s similar to protections already signed into law under Senate Bill 65.

"This one is certainly broader in scope," Mercer says.

The bill would extend liability protections to health care providers in situations when they work with patients while under COVID-19 protocols. 

The bill saw support from the Montana County Attorneys Association, Montana School Boards Association and the Montana Rural Education Association. 

It would protect schools from liability if they allow up to six guests per student to attend sporting or graduation events, and for universities conducting in-person ceremonies. 

Al Smith with the Montana Trial Lawyers Association spoke in opposition, saying the bill doesn’t require enough of the entities that would get legal protection. 

“Governmental entities get this limited liability and they don’t have to do anything.” 

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a party-line vote. It will require a three-fourths majority to pass the House chamber as it limits government liability

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.