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Montana Attorney General joins lawsuit challenging employer vaccine mandate

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (April 2021)
COVID vaccine
Posted at 10:53 AM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 13:35:03-04

HELENA — Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen Friday joined 10 other state attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s rule that larger companies must require workers to be vaccinated against COVID.

The petition, filed in a federal appeals court in Missouri, says that the rule, released Thursday, is an illegal foray into powers reserved for the states. It asked the court to overturn the rule and block it from taking effect while the court decides its legality.

Knudsen said in a news release that “forcing these injections” on Montanans infringes on the rights of individuals and businesses and will worsen worker shortages and supply-chain problems.

“If a president can unilaterally force people to submit to a medical procedure they don’t want, then there’s seemingly no limit to the federal government’s control over our lives,” he said. “President Biden’s illegal mandate is an egregious overreach and sets the country down a dangerous path.”

The rule, issued the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, says businesses with more than 100 employees must have all employees be vaccinated against COVID by January 4, 2022, or require them to undergo weekly testing for the disease. Failure to comply could result in penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation, according to CBS News.

The rule would apply to about 142,000 Montana workers, or more than one-third of the private sector in the state, Knudsen said.

Governor Greg Gianforte said in a news release on Friday: “President Biden’s heavy-handed vaccine mandate is illegal in Montana, and I stand with Montana employers and Attorney General Knudsen as he joins other states to challenge the president’s unlawful overreach,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Not only does President Biden’s mandate violate Montana law banning vaccine-based discrimination, but also it will further strain Montana employers already facing a worker shortage. We will use all tools at our disposal to protect Montanans against this gross, unprecedented federal overreach.”

The Biden administration also issued another rule that says hospitals and other medical facilities that accept federal funding must vaccinate their employee against COVID-19. The lawsuit does not challenge that rule.

Knudsen’s participation in the Friday legal action comes as no surprise; he had promised several weeks ago to legally challenge any vaccine mandates from the Biden administration.

Montana state law, passed several months ago by the Montana Legislature, forbids most businesses from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. OSHA said its rule overrides state law.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce said Thursday it’s evaluating the rule and its conflict with the state law.

Todd O’Hair, president of the state chamber, said it “continues to be a strong advocate for vaccination” to control the spread of COVID-19, but that the rule is an attack on employers’ rights.

The petition filed Friday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt says the mandate for employers is “unconstitutional, unlawful and unwise.”

OSHA did not determine any “grave danger” to employees but rather “reverse-engineered a justification” for the rule in response to a dictate from President Biden two months ago, the petition said.

“Its unlawful mandate will cause injuries and hardship to working families, inflict economic disruption and staffing shortages on the states and private employers and impose even greater strains on the struggling labor markets and supply chains,” the suit said.

Participants in the lawsuit include the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Joining the states in the lawsuit are two businesses, the Christian Employers Alliance, Sioux Falls Catholic Schools, and the Home School Legal Defense Association.