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Vaccine status discrimination bill fails to pass in House

February 25, 2021 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House failed Thursday to advance a bill that would ban discrimination based on vaccination status and prohibit the use of vaccination status to grant or deny services or access to businesses.

The Republican-controlled House split on the bill in a 50-50 vote, with several Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure.

Under the bill, employers — including health care facilities — would have been banned from mandating vaccinations as a condition for employment. Public schools and child care facilities would be required to allow for medical and religious exemptions for all vaccination requirements.

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Several private health care facilities in Montana require that their staff members receive certain vaccinations as a condition for employment. Coronavirus vaccines are not mandated under existing rules.

Current Montana law requires children to receive certain vaccinations to attend public schools, unless parents fill out medical or religious waivers. Licensed child care facilities also require certain vaccinations and allow for medical exemptions and religious exemptions for some vaccines.

The bill would also have prohibited the use of vaccine passports — or documents that prove an individual’s vaccination status.

Vaccine passports have not been implemented in Montana or by the U.S. federal government. They are being considered by several countries and airlines to allow those inoculated against COVID-19 to travel internationally.

Supporters of the bill said it would protect Montana residents’ freedom and privacy to make their own medical choices. Opponents said mandatory vaccinations ensure the health of children and prevent disease outbreaks.

While the measure failed to pass, House rules allow for a legislator to ask for the bill to be reconsidered. If a majority of the members approve, another vote could be held.

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Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.