County Commisisoners

Richland County Commissioners Shane Gorder (front), Loren Young (center) and Duane Mitchell (back).

During Monday’s session, the Richland County Board of Commissioners passed Resolution 2021-15 prohibiting any person or entity from requiring an individual to disclose their vaccination status.

The resolution begins with the phrase, “A resolution opposing vaccination discrimination, supporting vaccination privacy, and expressing local support of state leaders for protecting the freedoms of Montana citizens regarding vaccinations.

The resolution begins with statements supporting personal privacy in Montana as well as the United States.

The document first quotes the Montana Supreme Court, which said, “Montanans have heightened expectations of privacy.” The Constitution of Montana contains an express guarantee of the right of privacy, which even the United States Constitution does not have. The Montana Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized this state’s constitutional right as unique and affording to Montanans privacy extending significantly beyond

what is afforded by provisions of the United States Constitution.

The Court has said it is “one of the most stringent protections of its citizens’ right of privacy in the United. States.’’ The Court recognizes that it reflects “Montanans” historical abhorrence and distrust of excessive governmental interference in their personal lives.

The resolution also states both constitutions guarantee a person’s valued and fundamental right to be left alone, free from governmental intrusion; a person’s home is his/her castle; and the right to privacy is part of the guarantee of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The resolutions goes on to quote the Montana Supreme Court as saying, “Medical records are quintessentially ‘private’ and deserve the utmost constitutional protection.”

The resolution then states the right to privacy includes the decision as to whether to receive treatment or not to receive treatment. As a benchmark, the documents quotes the U.S. Supreme Court’s statement, saying this right to control fundamental medical decisions is an aspect of the right of self-determination and personal autonomy that is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” Continuing, the resolutions says, “As a matter of ‘informed consent,’ no physician may substitute his or her judgment, no matter how well founded, for that of the patient. The patient may refuse even life-saving treatment.”

The commissioners then base their decision on recent declarations by Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and the Montana State Legislature.

On April 13, 2021, Gov. Gianforte issued Executive Order No. 7-2021, “Executive Order Prohibiting Vaccine Passports.” While strongly encouraging Montanans to get a COVlD-19 vaccine, the Governor said, “Receiving one is entirely voluntary and will not be mandated by the State of Montana, nor compelled through vaccine passports, or other compulsory means. We are committed to protecting individual liberty and personal privacy.”

Likewise, the 2021 Montana Legislature enacted House Bill 702 titled “An act prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s vaccination status or possession of an immunity passport. Governor Gianforte signed the bill into law on May 7,2021.

As described in The National Law Review, under this law, Montana became the first jurisdiction to recognize an individual’s vaccination status as a category protected from discrimination. This protection is like the protection against discrimination in other categories such as race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, political ideas, etc. Persons wronged by discrimination relating to vaccinations may make a complaint to the Montana Human Rights Commission.

The National Law Review said under the law, businesses, governmental entities, and places of public accommodation may not refuse to serve or withhold goods firom any person “based on the person’s vaccination status or whether the person has an immunity passport.” Likewise, employers may not discriminate against or refuse to employ an individual based on whether the person has been vaccinated or possesses an immunity passport. The law bars employers firom requiring employees to receive vaccines, such as the current COVID-19 vaccine, “whose use is allowed under emergency use authorization or any vaccine undergoing safety trials.

The resolution then says, the law also prohibits employers firom requiring employees to disclose their immunization status and bars employers from requiring employees... to possess an immunity passport.

The commissioners then address the suggestion by the White House that door-to-door vaccinations be initiated.

“The proposal of a door-to-door push for vaccination is fraught with potential for invasion of privacy, trespassing and imposition of an unlawful government chillng effect on the exercise of fundamental rights. While beginning with perhaps innocent offers of ‘information’ or ‘help,’ such contacts at the castles of the people easily could decline into unlawful inquiries about vaccination status and other violations of the rights of Montanans as listed above.”

The resolution then states support for voluntary vaccination. “We support all efforts of the state and local governments, private organizations, and individuals, including those of the departments of Richland County, lawfully to develop, test, license, distribute, and administer vaccinations so that

those voluntarily wishing to be vaccinated can obtain access, and we encourage and direct the relevant departments of the county to be vigorous in aiding the people of Richland County to that purpose.”

The resolution prohibits the participation or local funding for a door-to-door vaccination push. “The Board of County Commissioners will make no appropriation of county funds regardless of how acquired, generated, or derived, regardless of whether by taxation, fees, grants, loans, or any other source or means, on a door-to-door promotion of vaccinations or inquiries about vaccination status, or any activity in violation of HB 702 2021 Montana Legislature or Executive Order No. 7-2021.” It also prohibits the use of any other funds or resources for that purpose.

In closing, the resolution then states support for leaders. “We thankfully support Governor Greg Gianforte, the sponsors of HB 702 and all members of the Legislature of Montana who voted for HB 702 for the efforts they already have made to protect the privacy, hberty, and equality of the people of Montana relating to vaccinations and encourage them to continue their efforts.”

The resolution was to take affect immediately.

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