Montana Anti-Vaxx Law: 'Religious Exemption' For Masks But Not For 'Not Letting Kids Die In Your Own Home'
Last night, being an employer domiciled in the state of Montana, I received an email from the state Department of Labor. It was a link to Frequently Asked Questions about HB 702, signed into law this spring by Gov. Greg Gianforte, banning "discrimination" against unvaccinated people in public accommodation (your hotels, restaurants, public facing businesses) and employment (all employers). It is, not hilariously, part of Montana's "Human Rights Act," which does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or against trans children, but now protects a class of people who ain't wanna get vaccinated, whether against COVID-19 or the measles.
Well, being both an employer of people and a reader of things, I read that FAQ. And while I was aware this bill had been passed and signed into law, there were so very many batshit things introduced in our biennial legislative session, there was literally no way to keep track of them.
See those nine pages? There were 50 bills on each.
And reading that FAQ, I noticed something: While an employer — including a hospital or other healthcare facility — cannot "discriminate" against the new protected class of "unvaccinated people," it can require those folks to wear masks, if they require everyone to wear masks, and as long as they have an exemption for "sincerely held religious beliefs." You know, all those sincerely held religious beliefs against wearing a piece of cloth on your face holes so you don't breathe germs on sick people, during a global pandemic.
And this was the GOOD version of the bill; it added an exemption for nursing homes and let schools continue to require a TB test.
When my husband fetched me from California as his war bride coming up on seven years ago now, I knew going in I was moving to a red state. But we were both under the impression it was a different kind of red: less Jesus-y, more libertarian-ish, with a labor background, a good state Constitution (Robyn frequently points out it's the only state in the nation that doesn't have "at will employment"), and a cadre of sportsmen (hunters and fishermen) who make damn sure we keep public access to our magnificent open space.
But then Donald Trump happened, and Montana's usual folkways — red in the lege, with a Democratic governor to keep the lid on the crazy — were no longer operative. Just about the first thing Gianforte did was do away with Gov. Steve Bullock's mask mandate — but, he generously allowed, schools could keep them. Almost immediately, the (Republican) superintendent of schools "strongly recommended" schools make masks "voluntary." And somewhere in that legislative session, the lege recommended that any schools that kept their mask requirements be cut off from the state's $382 million share of $30 billion in school capital improvements (like, say, improved ventilation) funded by Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan. I don't even know what happened to that recommendation. Like I said: impossible to keep track.
Now, our governor's been talking out all sides of his mouth. After the CDC got whomped back to its senses and recommended everyone wear masks indoors again because fuckers in red states won't take "personal responsibility," our governor explained "nah." Instead, he "encouraged" everyone to get a "safe and effective vaccine."
So to recap: As an employer or a business or a hospital, you can't require a vaccine, but you can require a mask, unless someone "sincerely" doesn't want to wear it. But here's the kicker I discovered last night: While the lege made damn sure to include an exemption for "sincerely held religious beliefs" about wearing a mask, they did not include an exemption for employment that occurs in one's own home.
Yes, Montana's "small government" Republicans have mandated by law that I cannot refuse to hire unvaccinated people to work in my home, or I will be in violation of the state's human rights law.
And that's when I started yelling at my neighbor on Twitter. (I yelled at Greg Gianforte some first, but he was smart enough to ignore me.)
I've never spoken to Montana Senator
President Greg Hertz [Hertz was House speaker but is not Senate president, I appreciate the correction, Sen. Hertz], but we had a previous dustup on Twitter, after a man was let go after a three-day Baker Act hold for threatening to shoot up the K-2 school my daughter attended. Believe it or not, I was polite: We live across the street from each other, and I'm not trying to be an obstreperous neighbor. I like his wife, I adore his daughter, his granddaughter and my daughter are friends. But ever since he responded to my polite question "what can we do about this" by asking how a red flag law, shot down in the previous session by Montana's lege, would have helped, I have no longer run out to the fence to do friendly neighbor chit-chat when they walk by. I was flabbergasted. "Would a red flag law have prevented this?" It would take away his guns after he threatened to murder my five-year-old daughter.
Having witnessed Hertz's previous concern for our children's welfare, and being in a fuckin' MOOD, last night I was ready to do some polite constituent commenting.
But Sen. Greg Hertz did not know what was in the bill he voted for, which the governor signed. Unless he was lying about it.
I helpfully showed him the part of the Department of Labor's FAQ: Does this law apply to my employer? "Yes."
"Perhaps — perhaps! — you need to let the DOL know they left out an important caveat," I said. "Or perhaps the law itself may need to be redrafted, as the 'employment' part does not seem to be contingent on the 'public accommodation' part."
I asked our Jamie to read the bill and see if I was missing something. My state senator was assuring me it didn't apply to private employment. Jamie is a lawyer, formerly of the ACLU. She assured me I was not. "And obviously you already know this but that entire bill is fucking insane," she further explained. She's a helper!
Hertz replied: "Hiring babysitters, adult care providers, plumber, electrician, etc to do work in your home does fall under employee and employer relationship." (I assumed he meant "does not" fall under employer relationship, but who can say?)
Unfortunately, I would not shut up: "a nanny does. a housekeeper does," I tweeted, surely annoyingly. "these are employees for whom people would pay employment taxes. not that I have one! but this is an oversight in the bill as drafted and signed into law. and it should be fixed."
A couple hours later, presumably after a nice supper and actually looking up the text of the law he passed and the governor signed, since he'd previously told me it only applied to public accommodation, he replied, "It is not an oversight. If you are an employer you cannot discriminate. States have different laws as does the federal government for certain size employers."
And then he, having claimed it wouldn't apply to me and then read his own bill, went on the offensive and called me a bigot, asking, "So you want to be selective on what and who you can discriminate against."
Well now, neighbor. People of a different race from me, or even a different religion, are neither lethal nor contagious. Refusal to get an available vaccine for a deadly disease that is killing more children now ... is both!
My friendly neighbor explained what's the big deal, I have a high expectation of privacy in my home — unless a nutcase Thomas More Society lawyer decides to spend some funtime suing me for funsies because that is the law as drafted, amended, and signed. He left it with this showstopper: "OMG let me know when pigs start to fly in the neighborhood."
OMG let me know when you HAVE A LAWYER READ YOUR BILLS BEFORE YOU FUCKING PASS THEM, YOU DICK.
And that's when I went to bed, and then GOT OUT of bed because I was SO FUCKING MAD and went down to the dining room where my laptop was and MIC DROPPED this ABSOLUTE FACT:
And then I went back to bed, slept the sleep of the just and woke up to:
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, until my husband reminded me the people who sold us our house five years ago left a "street name" sign on the tool shed, and we'd left it there ever since, along with their wooden moosehead and wasp traps. I was so busy looking up "is it illegal to possess a street sign in Montana," I got just completely derailed.
But Hot (Former) Assemblyman Tom Winter had picked up the scent and decided it was time for fighting, with my neighbor, and it was MEAN:
Oh shit, now I feel bad, having made all this fighting and fuss.
Wait, no I really fucking don't. Because Tom Winter's got it right and my neighbor's bad for children and other living things.
And a fucking dick.
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