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Montana Representatives Endorse COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill

Mom's Organic Market store in Virginia with customer sign to wear face mask covering beyond this point to protect employees during Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak
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The Montana House of Representatives has advanced a bill that aims to protect businesses from liability in COVID-19 related lawsuits. The policy is key in Gov. Greg Gianforte’s plan to remove the state’s mask mandate. 

Senate Bill 65 passed the House Monday on a party-line vote. 

Republican Rep. Mark Noland, from Bigfork, carried the bill in the House.

"This is an important bill for opening up our economy, protecting businesses and the people of Montana from frivolous lawsuits, and to help lift the mask mandate," Noland said.

The bill would add to the burden of proof for claimants who contract COVID-19 and want to sue a business, church, nonprofit or other organization for negligence in preventing the spread of the virus. Noland said the intent is to protect against "frivolous lawsuits."

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he won’t lift the statewide mask mandate until he’s signed Senate Bill 65 into law. The bill has already passed the Senate and could land on Gianforte’s desk next week. 

Representatives in the House Business and Labor Committee amended the bill to remove a provision that would allow the law to be applied retroactively. This means claims made before the bill is enacted cannot be subject to its protections.

It was also amended to add assisted living facilities to the list of protected businesses. 

Rep. Katie Sullivan, a Democrat from Missoula, spoke in opposition to the bill. She said that the bar is already set high to sue for negligence, it’s nearly impossible to prove how someone caught COVID-19 and that it will encourage business owners to return to business as usual even though the virus continues to spread. 

"This bill is not needed," she said.

Because the House amended the bill, the Senate will have to vote to concur on the changes before the bill can advance to the governor’s desk.

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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