The Legislature worked hard to give you the right to choose - choose wisely

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Guest Opinion By Brad Molnar
Thursday, December 23, 2021
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People recruited to run for the legislature are told it is for three months, every other year. Truth is that it is for 90 days spread over four months; and constituent interaction never stops. Lately vaccine mandates/exceptions, real and imagined, fill my inbox. Here is where we are with state law.

HB 702, sponsored by Rep. Jeniffer Carlson (R) Manhattan Mt. passed the House 63-33 with one Republican, Geraldine Custer, voting “no”; no democrats voted yes. HB 702 clarifies that persons providing employment or services may not discriminate based on vaccination status. HB 702 allowed employers and government granting religious and medical exemptions to opt out of the “no discrimination” mandate.

No one can force you to take, say, penicillin if you are allergic to it or do something against your religious beliefs. Religious tenants as a defense, even if the defendant is not a member of an organized religion, is affirmed in court cases both state and federal.

In the Senate Human Services Committee Sen. McGillvray (R) and I collaborated to amend out the religious and health exemptions so all people could say “no” to vaccinations without justification or penalty. On the Senate floor I amended HB 702 so it did not apply to school or day care vaccination programs as these are already codified with mandates. Courts will not allow conflict in the law and often strike the new/conflicting statute as unconstitutional due to vagueness. My amendment got booed from the gallery but saved the bill. HB 702 passed the Senate 32-18 with all Republicans and democrat Tom Jacobson of Cascade voting yes.

Governor Gianforte further amended HB 702. He added that if a hospital employee was not vaccinated the hospital must make accommodations and let the employee work in non-sensitive areas of the hospital, wear masks, or social distance. He further amended in that if the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services or the Centers for Disease Control passed regulations or guidance on vaccination mandates nursing homes, long term care facilities, and assisted living facilities would be exempt from needing to comply with HB 702. The governor’s amendments, and the bill as amended, passed straight party line.

CURRENT STATUS

HB 702 has survived all court challenges. Federal courts struck down the mandates of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mandates. That is being appealed. Vaccine mandates across the country are being challenged, upheld, and struck down. It is the wild west in the “right to say no vs obligation to vaccinate” battle. People complain to me that railroads, engineering firms and hospitals in Montana claim President Biden’s executive orders override state law.

Per me most persons currently have the right to not accept vaccination but schools, hospitals, and day care facilities have special status. Long term care facilities cannot currently demand proof of vaccination. Railroads and employers with over 100 employees may or may not be covered by Biden’s order based on the signing date of certain federal contracts. Never mind “per me” or per your brother in law. If you want an update on your circumstance call the Montana Human Rights Commission at (406) 444-2844. Discrimination is what they defend against and they are in charge of HB 702 as codified (MCA 49-2-312).

If you do or do not want to be vaccinated please talk to your doctor and be sure of your pro or con decision. If you have various preexisting conditions (including advanced age) know that the Covid vaccines are not “safe and effective” but they are as safe and effective as many long accepted vaccines; none are 100% safe or effective for all people. The legislature did its part to give you the right to choose. Choose wisely.

Brad Molnar is a state senator serving Laurel and Lockwood.

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