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Montana Senate Advances COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill

Sign on a business door that says 'Attention: for the safety of our patrons and employees, masks are required for entry. Thank you for helpping slow the spread of COVID-19.'

Montana's Senate advanced a bill that would shield businesses and organizations from COVID-19 lawsuits, so long as those businesses are following health care guidelines.

Republican Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, an attorney from Great Falls, is carrying Senate Bill 65 to raise the threshold for lawsuits claiming COVID-19-related damages. It would raise the plaintiff's burden of proof from ordinary to gross negligence.

“We’re making it so it’s just more than an accident, it has to be really a continued pattern of doing things that could expose somebody to COVID liability," Fitzpatrick said.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte requested the legislation, saying he would not lift the statewide mask mandate until it passes. It was approved by the full Senate Monday, with some bipartisan support on the 37-13 vote.

Lawmakers voted to suspend their normal rules in order to pass the bill out of the Senate chamber and speed up the process of getting it passed.

The policy would also protect places of worship, health care providers and nonprofit organizations from getting sued if someone is exposed to COVID-19, provided that those organizations are following state, local or federal regulations.

The bill is headed to the state House of Representatives next for consideration. 

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.
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