A Montana Senate committee is considering a bill that would provide liability protection for businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to the pandemic.
The Senate Committee on Business, Labor and Economic Affairs held a hearing on Friday on the bill, which was identified by Governor Greg Gianforte as a requirement to lift a statewide mask mandate imposed last summer by Democratic predecessor Steve Bullock. implemented.
If the bill is passed into law, Montana would join several other states that have created COVID-19 liability protections since the start of the pandemic. The bill would protect businesses and healthcare providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits, as long as they follow federal, state, and local public health guidelines.
Proponents of the bill say it is imperative for companies to operate during the pandemic without fear that what they say could be crippling lawsuits.
& # 39; To me this looks like the vaccine. It provides a good dose of preventative medicine so business owners can get back to work by rebuilding their businesses and hiring new employees, ”said Brad Griffin, a lobbyist who represents numerous business organizations, including the Montana Retail Association and the Montana Restaurant Association.
The Montana Trial Lawyers Association opposes the bill, claiming it wants to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
& # 39; This bill is unnecessary. There has not been an explosion of COVID-related lawsuits, & # 39; & # 39; said Al Smith, executive director of the organization. "Our current law already provides protection for businesses and medical providers, so there has been no explosion of cases."
Smith said the new bill could protect businesses and healthcare providers even if they act irresponsibly by exposing employees and customers to COVID-19, and that passing the bill does not mean the statewide mask mandate can be safely revoked. .
The bill's sponsor, Republican Senator Steve Fitzpatrick, said in response that the legislature should "anticipate problems" rather than wait for them to arise.
"I don't think we necessarily have to wait until we've had multiple lawsuits and a few people have gone bankrupt before we decide that we want to take appropriate steps to ensure that people are protected from unnecessary lawsuits," Fitzpatrick said. .
Leadership in the Republican-controlled legislature has indicated that they see the bill as a priority for reopening the state economy. The committee will vote on the bill next week.
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