HELENA — Governor Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday one of the criteria needed before he’d remove the state’s mask mandate was liability protection for businesses, nonprofits, schools, and places of worship.
The Montana Chamber of Commerce approved of Gianforte’s new policies and have already been working with state Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) to develop COVID liability protection legislation.
“That’s an issue that was identified not too long after the COVID pandemic broke out in Montana,” said Todd O’Hair, the CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce. “It’s an issue that has hung with businesses, it’s an issue that they’re very concerned about so that’s been a top priority of ours moving forward.”
The bill will have its first hearing on January 8 before the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee.
The bill will establish any business in compliance with regulations, executive orders or public health guidance as a safe harbor. A safe harbor is a legal provision that reduces or eliminates legal or regulatory liability.
“This is going to help provide some confidence in the business community once we get this bill in place,” said O’Hair. “It will give them the confidence not only to protect the health of their employees, but protect the safety of their economic well being as a business.”
O’Hair says there is no denying consumer confidence in going out to a business has not been great during the pandemic. The pandemic also forced many economic drivers for communities, like rodeos and farmers markets, to not operate last year.
“I think the vaccination strategy that was unveiled is going to help bring confidence back,” explained O’Hair. “When you think about those restaurants that offer the finer dining operations, it’s very difficult for them to be able to deliver take-out. Nobody is very excited about going and getting a really good steak in a Styrofoam box.”
O’Hair served on Gov. Bullocks COVID-19 task force and is currently on Gianforte’s COVID-19 task force.