The Montana legislature on Tuesday passed a bill prohibiting employers from requiring their employees to receive a coronavirus vaccine as a condition of employment.
The bill bars employers from denying employment opportunities, educational opportunities, privileges, licensing, goods, or services based on vaccination status or whether someone has an immunity passport. Employers are still permitted to strongly recommend that workers get vaccinated.
The bill was amended so it would not affect vaccine requirements at public schools, but individuals can seek religious or medical exemptions to those vaccination requirements.
The bill now gets sent to Republican Governor Greg Gianforte for his signature.
“Up to now Montana employers have respected the fundamental, personal, medical and religious freedoms of Montanans,” GOP state senator Tom McGillvray, who presented the bill, said last week, according to the Associated Press.
“However, that’s not the case anymore,” he said. “There are employers … that are requiring and coercing employees to get vaccinations under threat of termination and intimidation.”
Some health care organizations voiced their opposition to the bill, the Montana Hospital Association expressing concerns that “will prevent healthcare facilities from screening potential employees in the hiring process without violating the newly created discrimination provisions in the bill.”
The law “unravels more than 50 years of medical science and expert guidance in protecting patients and health care workers from infectious diseases,” Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, said.
However, Republican state representative Jennifer Carlson, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill “does not in any way prevent any employer from taking reasonable safety precautions, just as any hospital currently does, with an employee who does not have a flu shot.”
Montana’s move comes just after Gianforte issued an executive order earlier this month banning the use of vaccine passports or documentation of someone’s coronavirus vaccination status in the state.
“I strongly encourage Montanans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Receiving one is entirely voluntary and won’t be mandated by the state,” the governor wrote in an April 13 tweet. “That’s why today I issued an executive order prohibiting ‘vaccine passports,’ and I’ll continue protecting individual liberty and personal privacy.”
Several other states have recently banned vaccine passports. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah have all taken action against mandatory vaccine passports in some form, arguing that it violates the privacy and civil rights of residents.
“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said early this month in announcing his executive order banning the use of vaccine passports in his state.
“As I have said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said days later in a video message announcing his similar executive order prohibiting government-mandated vaccine passports.
“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives,” Abbott said.