Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Tuesday issued an executive order to prohibit so-called vaccine passports in Montana.
It also prohibits businesses from requiring customers to show they've been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 to receive services or enter a business, but it does carve out exceptions for nursing homes, long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities that require that documentation for residents.
Vaccine passports have recently emerged as a new partisan flash point both nationally and in Montana. Two bills moving through the state Legislature propose blocking the use of vaccine passports in various capacities. Republicans and other supporters of the measures have argued that the specter of required documentation for COVID-19 vaccinations to access goods or services could be a slippery slope toward greater government or corporate control over private medical decisions.
“Receiving one is entirely voluntary and will not be mandated by the state of Montana, nor compelled through vaccine passports, vaccine passes or other compulsory means,” a press release from the governor’s office quoted Gianforte as saying Tuesday. “We are committed to protecting individual liberty and personal privacy.”
The exceptions in the executive order don’t include hospitals or child care businesses. Representatives from those industries previously testified against the proposals working through the state government, insisting that vaccine requirements for visitors and patients are needed to ensure the safety of vulnerable patients and children.
“We reached out to hospitals, medical professionals and industry reps, and listened to their concerns,” said Travis Hall, a spokesman for the governor’s office, in an email.
Democrats, who have largely opposed the restrictions on vaccine passports, have also pointed out that airports already check passengers’ vaccination status before they can fly to countries that require visitors be immunized against certain communicable diseases. It’s unclear whether the governor’s order will apply to those situations.
Hall said Tuesday he doesn’t know whether the order applies to airlines operating in Montana. In response to asking which businesses would fall under the executive order, a spokesperson for the governor said in an email "state agencies are tasked with ensuring businesses comply with the executive order. So, insofar as a company is regulated or overseen by a Montana state agency, they are subject to the executive order."
The administration Tuesday evening said the order doesn't apply to public K-12 schools. The order states no “official of the state of Montana” can require or issue a vaccine passport. Public K-12 schools in Montana require that students be vaccinated for some common communicable diseases like measles, mumps and rubella, although state law provides exemptions for those who have religious objections or a medical reason to not be vaccinated.
On Monday, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee heard the two bills to ban vaccine passports in Montana. House Bill 702, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Carlson, R-Manhattan, and House Bill 703, from Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, have both cleared the House along largely party-line votes.
Last week Gianforte announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Days prior to testing positive, Gianforte received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a Helena pharmacy. While the Pfizer vaccine is about 95% effective a person does not get immunity until two weeks after their second dose, meaning Gianforte tested positive before immunity would have taken effect.
As of Tuesday, more than 250,640 Montanans had been fully vaccinated, according to a state dashboard.