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Gianforte denounces Biden vaccine mandate plan
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Gianforte denounces Biden vaccine mandate plan

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Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks at a press conference

Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks at a press conference  Aug. 24 in the Montana State Capitol.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday blasted President Joe Biden's announcement to impose a widespread vaccination mandate amid the COVID-19 resurgence. 

"President Biden's vaccination mandate is unlawful and un-American," Gianforte tweeted Thursday afternoon. "We are committed to protecting Montanans' freedoms and liberties against this gross federal overreach."

Biden announced his plan on Thursday that would cover roughly two-thirds of U.S. workers, as many as 100 million Americans, as the delta variant wrests away the country's grip on the pandemic obtained after vaccines became widely available. The plan includes a mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Workers at health facilities that receive federal funding will also have to be fully vaccinated, the Associated Press reported. Federal employees and contractors who refuse to get vaccinated could be disciplined. 

According to U.S. Census data capturing pre-pandemic numbers from 2018, the most recent available, roughly 51%, 185,000, of Montanans worked for businesses with less than 100 employees and won't be affected by Biden's order.

Gianforte touted the efficacy of the vaccine in a press conference last month while asserting he would not institute a mask or vaccine mandate in response to increasing COVID-19 cases. The state's vaccination rate has held steady in recent weeks at 51%.

A law passed by the Montana Legislature earlier this year sets the stage for a potential legal battle between the state and the federal government. Montana became the only state in the nation to ban vaccine mandates for employees after the state Legislature passed House Bill 702, making it illegal for most businesses or organizations to require staff, visitors, patients or customers be vaccinated in order to access a facility, excluding schools and day cares.

Jennifer Carlson, a Republican representative from Manhattan who sponsored HB 702, promoted the bill on privacy grounds. Carlson did not return a phone call seeking comment on Biden's announcement Thursday.

The governor's office did not directly answer a question on how Biden's mandate would square with the new state law, referring to the tweet. 

At the time Gianforte signed the bill into law, hospital officials warned it could force them to ignore longstanding federal guidelines put in place to protect patients and healthcare workers. Rich Rasmussen, president and chief executive officer of the Montana Hospital Association, also said such a law could hurt hospitals' ability to recruit and retain out-of-state employees. 

Rasmussen told the Montana State News Bureau on Thursday the association's legal counsel was still reviewing Biden's requirement. 

"At this point, we're evaluating the president's announcement and we're measuring it against the state's House Bill 702," he said.

The state announced 1,001 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to 6,784. There are 316 active hospitalizations as several Montana hospitals have maxed out bed capacity. Rasmussen said the same is true for hospitals across the Mountain West region. 

As of late Thursday, 1,830 Montanans have died from COVID-19.

Billings Gazette reporter Tom Lutey contributed to this report.

Montana State News Bureau
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