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Montana 2021 Legislature

Despite Last-Minute Amendment, Bill Banning Vaccine Requirements Worries Montana Hospitals

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William Marcus
/
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol in Helena.

Montana lawmakers have accepted Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s changes to a bill preventing businesses and government agencies from denying people services or employment because of vaccination status. The president of the Montana Hospital Association remains worried the policy will upend provider safety procedures.

Lawmakers have agreed with the governor’s amendment that removes the prohibition on long-term care facilities mandating staff vaccinations. Under the updated legislation, hospitals and clinics remain prohibited from mandating staff vaccinations, but are allowed more latitude to accommodate unvaccinated employees.

Gianforte’s amendatory veto of the original policy caught some Republicans off guard.

Great Falls Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey said Gianforte’s office had reassured lawmakers when concerns were raised that the original policy could force providers to permanently adopt pandemic-era restrictions like mask-wearing.

“Because of that assurance I guess I was somewhat surprised to see that we had an amendatory veto arrive to us today,” Buttrey says.

Lawmakers passed the amended bill on near party lines Thursday.

Despite supporting the amended policy, Buttrey remains concerned it will jeopardize federal funding by forcing hospitals to run afoul of national health care standards. He said the amendment sounds like a “trial lawyer’s dream.”

“So we’re going to have lots of lawsuits, and that’s going to do little but tie up our courts, provide work for lawyers and ultimately continue to raise the cost of health care for the rest of us,” Buttrey says.

Rich Rassmussen, president of the Montana Hospital Association, said in an interview the amendment doesn’t address providers’ biggest worry about the bill, which is not being able to require vaccinations in hospitals.

“You want to ensure that everyone who touches the patient has been vaccinated for those baseline, highly transmissible diseases. That is what is missing for this,” Rassmussen says.

Rassmussen thinks the bill discriminates against hospitals and clinics, a concern Buttrey echoed. Rassmussen said his association would prefer to avoid challenging the policy in court, but it remains an option.

Rose Hughes, president of the Montana Health Care Association that represents nursing homes, said the governor’s amendment resolves her organization's major concerns with the bill.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.