In his inauguration speech, one of the promises made by Governor Greg Gianforte was to eliminate the state’s masking mandate through two avenues, one through vaccination and the other through legislation.

On Friday, Gianforte announced his support for SB 65; legislation sponsored by Senator Fitzpatrick designed to offer liability protections to businesses, health care providers, places of worship, and nonprofit organizations that follow public health guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Legislative spokesman Kyle Schmauch provides details of the bill.

“Senator Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Great Falls introduced Senate Bill 65, which is intended to give businesses and other entities the certainty they need to reopen without the threat of frivolous lawsuits trying to shut them down,” said Schmauch. “It's a very critical piece of legislation, it’s a very technical, legal piece of legislation, but still very important to eventually end the mask mandate, getting Montanans back to work, and getting the economy up and running.”

Schmauch described the workings of the legislation.

“What the bill does is basically say that a business can't be sued as long as they're being reasonable and responsible when it comes to precautions during the COVID 19 pandemic,” he said. “Unless an entity is being deliberately reckless and almost intentionally putting people's health at risk they can't be subject to a lawsuit if someone catches COVID and claims they caught it at that entity.”

Schmauch said what is important to Governor Gianforte was apparently not important to former Governor Steve Bullock.

“This is something that the former Governor Steve Bullock really dropped the ball on,” he said. “Senator Fitzpatrick and Representative Mark Nolan over in House last spring almost a year ago early in the pandemic, had asked Governor Bullock to provide some sort of liability protections for businesses. Bullock never responded to them. Then a Democrat from the Economic Affairs Interim Committee sent a follow up letter asking the same request of former Governor Bullock, and he didn't respond to her either.”

Schmauch explained the fast tracking of a bill of this importance to the Governor.

“A fast pace for a bill would typically be two to three weeks to get it introduced, have a hearing,” he said. “We'd be getting the amendments to executive action, getting it through the floor and then it would have to go through two readings on the floor; the second and third reading. The second reading is where they debate on the floor and then it has to go to the other chamber where the process is repeated, and then onto the governor's desk.”

SB 65 also helps clarify the respective roles of private citizens and the government on matters of enforcement.

“This is a jobs bill and it’s a bill about doing things the Montana way, not the California way,” said Representative Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, who is cosponsoring the bill from the House. “In addition to providing clarity and certainty, this bill will help ensure private citizens don’t have to act as the enforcers of government mandates.”


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