State lawmakers agreed Friday to temporarily stop the state from enacting an administrative rule that would have allowed children attending daycare centers and daycare centers to receive religious exemptions for vaccines.
Democrats and Republicans on the Interim Committee on Children, Families, Health and Human Services, which oversees the state health department, voted to delay the proposal, though for different reasons.
The committee voted 9-1 in favor of an “informal objection” to the proposed rule, which bars the state from adopting the rule for six months from the date of the proposal, in this case Aug. 5.
Need to get in touch?
Got a news tip?
Along with extending religious exemptions to child care centers, the rule would also remove requirements that staff at those centers be vaccinated.
Republicans on the committee expressed concerns over the rule’s administrative factors and vague definitions.
“I think that’s another thing that moves the needle to more complicated … For example … home care is going to have to have more complicated response policies and procedures, and it looks like grandma would have a lot more documents,” said Rep. Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, referring to child care centers that operate out of a person’s home.
And Rep. Jennifer Carlson, R-Manhattan, expressed concerns over the rule’s terminology.
“There are also terms in this package of regulations that are not defined in the law, they are not even defined in the rule,” she said.
At the same time, Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman and committee chairman, objected to content of the rule that would make it easier for children to opt out of required vaccines, citing the rollback of polio and measles in parts. of the country.
“This religious exemption, which basically has no accountability, so someone can say my religion is ‘I don’t like vaccines’ and then exempt their children,” he said. “… This whole process is just a way for people to avoid vaccines and create public health problems.”
Carlson made a point to mention that her objections were not related to the religious exemption aspects of the rule.
“I hope that one day in this country … we can get to the point where we don’t believe it’s our job to judge someone else’s religious belief,” she said.
The day before the committee’s informal rebuttal, the Department of Public Health and Human Services heard public comments on the rule. At the hearing, the department said the new rule was needed to bring child care centers into compliance with Senate Bill 215, or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed last legislative session, and House Bill 702, which prohibited discrimination based on vaccination status. The department also said the relaxed regulations that come with the rule would help ease the staffing burden currently affecting child care centers.
At that meeting, medical professionals came out to oppose the new rule, saying it would compromise vulnerable children to deadly viruses and make it harder for the state to prevent outbreaks of diseases like polio and measles.
In a statement, DPHHS said it was “disappointed” with the committee’s informal objection.
“It is well known that there is a child care shortage in Montana, and this shortage continues to negatively impact parents’ ability to rejoin the workforce. One of the Department’s goals with these rules is to streamline the hiring process for child care providers to create more child care positions throughout Montana,” the statement said. “The Department also remains concerned that the objection excludes it from revising the rules to comply with the Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act and will consider its options to mitigate any legal risks.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX