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Gianforte signs COVID-19 liability bill, rolls back mask mandate

by By Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service
| February 14, 2021 8:30 AM

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed into law a major COVID-19 liability bill, which soared through the Montana Legislature during its first month.

Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, greatly reduces the extent to which businesses, healthcare professionals, and manufacturers of personal protective equipment are liable for harm related to COVID-19. The bill sets a higher bar for lawsuits, changing the standard from “negligence” in previous law to “gross negligence.”

Gianforte previously said signing SB 65 into law and vaccinating the most vulnerable populations of the state were prerequisites to removing the statewide mask mandate put in place by his predecessor, former Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte announced during the bill’s signing that he would allow the mandate to expire as of Friday, Feb. 12. Local jurisdictions will still be allowed to issue their own mask mandates.

The bill passed through the Legislature largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting in favor of the measure and most Democrats against. Democrats raised objections to the bill’s broad protections, saying it went far beyond protecting from “frivolous lawsuits.” The bill also extends protections to nursing homes, something Democrats also resisted.

Austin Amestoy is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. Amestoy can be reached at austin.amestoy@umontana.edu.