A federal lawsuit in Montana seeks to block a state agency from enforcing on tribal lands a legislative prohibition against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The Glacier County Regional Port Authority filed the complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Great Falls. The litigation comes after Montana Labor and Industry Department officials determined the port authority discriminated against an unvaccinated person who attempted to attend one of its meetings, in Browning.
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Browning is on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Attorneys for the port authority contend that the state lacks jurisdiction on tribal lands to enforce Montana’s prohibition on vaccine mandates.
While tribes in Montana often implemented stricter safety protocols than the state, Native Americans were disproportionately hospitalized and killed by COVID-19, the Missoulian reported. The Blackfeet tribe in July reported that 67 community members had died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
A Department of Labor and Industry spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the lawsuit.
Montana’s Republican-dominated Legislature last year passed a first-in-the-nation law making it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s vaccine status in providing services, access to public accommodations or employment. The law applies to all vaccinations.
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In March, a judge in a separate case ruled that the law could not be enforced against most health care facilities while an interim federal rule is in place requiring millions of health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.