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Cole County judge upholds health order legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Cole County judge upheld a new state law curbing the power of local officials to issue health ordinances during emergencies Thursday. 

HB 271, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, was challenged by Overland, a small community in St. Louis County. It asked the court to temporarily bar the state from enforcing the law, which began with a measure establishing a local government expenditure database, because it “ballooned in size due to the addition of numerous other provisions, virtually none of which are germane to that objective.” 

The challenge was filed last week. 

“HB 271 … is among the latest of a long line of constitutionally defective bills omnibus routinely passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor,” the lawsuit said. 

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Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled in favor of the state which argued the law did not go against a multi-subject prohibition contained in the Missouri Constitution. He issued his judgment shortly after Thursday morning’s hearing.

Among other things, HB 271 included the prohibition of local officials from issuing public health orders or restrictions leading to the closure of schools, businesses, or places of worship beyond 30 days during a six-month period amid a state of emergency. Those orders could be extended by a majority vote of the local governing body. Outside of an emergency, the limit would be set at 21 days. 

Gov. Mike Parson signed the measure into law in June. The health order section took effect upon his signature due to an emergency clause.

The bill grew to include a myriad of provisions related to local governments as it progressed through the legislature, including regulations on county commissioners, county clerks, utilities, and circuit courts. Another section restricted communities from requiring COVID-19 vaccination passports for publicly funded transportation, a provision attached to other bills as well. These sections did not include emergency clauses and are set to take effect Saturday. 

The bill is also facing lawsuits from Cooper and Cedar counties over concerns that it would impact the state’s oversight of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Those challenges are also set to be heard by Green. 

Green also ruled in favor of the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) Friday morning, denying an attempt to block the controversial gun rights law.