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Biden vaccine mandate: Parson, GOP leadership vow legal challenge

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson promised a legal fight against the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandate Friday afternoon. 

Parson made the announcement after speaking with the Attorney General’s Office and leadership in the General Assembly, including Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Speaker Rob Vescovo, his office said. 

“This assault on individual liberty and free enterprise is a poorly executed attempt by the Biden administration to reset after its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Parson said. “With our southern border in crisis and as we are experiencing out-of-control inflation, President Biden is desperate to divert attention from his failures. However, Missouri will not be a pawn in this publicity stunt that seeks to force Missourians to disclose private health care decisions and dictate private business operations.”

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled plans for employers with at least 100 workers to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit weekly negative test results — a move expected to encompass about 80 million people. In addition, all federal employees and contractors doing business with the federal government will need to be vaccinated — forgoing the weekly testing option. 

In a news release Friday evening, the Governor’s Office contended the requirement violates Missouri’s constitutional authority and “exceeds the scope of the authority” both Biden and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (which is tasked with promulgating the rules for employers regarding vaccinations) have. 

Missouri is not under an OSHA plan and state employees will not need to submit to the mandate, the Governor’s Office said. 

Parson, a Republican, immediately condemned the announcement on Thursday, calling it “unwelcome” in Missouri. However, some conservative members of the legislature have been upping the pressure on the Parson administration to call an extraordinary session to stymie the federal government’s mandate. 

Sixteen Republican senators sent a letter to the governor Friday requesting a special session to run concurrently with veto session. The request was signed by Sens. Rick Brattin, Jason Bean, Mike Bernskoetter, Eric Burlison, Bill Eigel, Karla Eslinger, Elaine Gannon, Denny Hoskins, Andrew Koenig, Tony Luetkemeyer, Mike Moon, Cindy O’Laughlin, Bob Onder, Holly Rehder, Jeanie Riddle, and Bill White.

Parson’s office said the governor believes it is up to the states to regulate public health rules and maintained the General Assembly should have “a say in the process.” 

“As a small business owner who would be subjugated to President Biden’s unconstitutional mandate, I, nor the Missouri Senate, will stand idly by and allow this inexcusable power grab to harm Missourians,” Schatz said. “What the Biden administration is attempting to do will only worsen the workforce shortages businesses across the country are facing and is an absolute affront to our American freedoms.”

Republican Sen. Lincoln Hough, too, said the attorney general needed to challenge the vaccine mandate and dismissed the idea of a special session. 

“Everyone’s lives and businesses are different. I believe trying to do a ‘one-size-fits-all’ regulation will grow government and take away personal liberties. I firmly believe the best course of action is to pursue a legal remedy through the attorney general’s office,” Hough, who has encouraged his constituents to get vaccinated, said. “Regarding ongoing COVID discussions, our local communities are in the best position to navigate through these unprecedented times.” 

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri who has been adamantly pushing back against the Biden administration, said the latest mandate “will not stand in Missouri.”

Biden addressed the pushback from Republican governors Friday, telling reporters: “I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities.”

Parson signed legislation earlier this year curtailing local governments’ ability to enact sweeping health orders — a response to sweeping shutdowns and mask mandates enacted throughout the pandemic in certain cities and counties.

Missouri has also gone toe-to-toe with the federal government with a controversial gun law that declares federal laws that could restrict gun ownership as “invalid” in the state of Missouri. 

In Missouri, 60 people have died in the past seven days from COVID-19 with more than 10,150 positive cases identified during the last week. At least 54 percent of Missourians who meet the age requirement for the vaccine are fully inoculated. Nearly 78 percent of Missourians who are over the age of 65 are fully vaccinated, according to data from the state. 

This story has been edited with the request from the Republican senators. It was originally published on Sept. 10.