Committee passes bill that prohibits ‘discrimination based on vaccination status’

Opponents fear the bill would harm public health

Healthcare professional in protective gloves holding and organizing a tray of COVID-19 vaccine vials. (Getty Images)

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday morning, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would bar schools, hospitals, and public and private businesses from discriminating against or denying service to people based on vaccination status.

House Bill 415, sponsored by Manhattan Republican Rep. Jennifer Carlson, passed on party lines 12-7 with Republican support. The bill would prohibit schools from requiring proof of vaccinations and ban employers, including health care facilities, from using vaccination status as an employment requirement. It would also outlaw immunization passports — a document proving someone is immune to disease either through “vaccination, or infection and recovery,” according to the bill.

Dozens of supporters showed up to testify on behalf of the bill and argued that requiring disclosure of vaccination status is an invasion of their privacy and freedoms. Supporters said they worry about being denied employment and being barred from participating in society if they were forced to disclose their vaccination status.

“We should not be showing an immunity passport to get in to buy groceries at our local store,” Carlson said. “That information is private. The right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed.”

Opponents were sympathetic to people’s freedom to choose but said the bill would be harmful to public health.

“When one’s right to choose can cause serious illness and even death to my family, then that choice should not be allowed,” said Brandy Thomas, who worked in childhood education for 20 years.

Thomas and other childcare workers said during testimony that they worry the bill would lead to the closure of some childcare centers, which can be scarce in Montana, if forced to choose between accepting unvaccinated children and staying in business.

For Marian Kummer, a retired pediatrician, the issue boils down to “the right of the individual versus the good of men.”

For a vaccine to be most effective, a large percentage of the population must be immunized, she said. By forcing schools and other businesses to allow unvaccinated people, she worries that other diseases could reappear.

About 5 percent of children already claim religious or medical exemptions from vaccinations, Kummer said. “If we allow further children to be unvaccinated, that lowers our total rate of immunization, and that would make it so that measles would be able to spread again.”