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Parson adds COVID liability to special session call

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson officially expanded the call of the ongoing special session to include COVID liability Thursday.

“Since the start of COVID-19, our health care providers have gone above and beyond to respond to COVID-19 and provide exceptional care in an unprecedented and rapidly changing environment,” Parson told reporters from the Capitol. “Many other organizations across the state have also been instrumental in our response efforts, including manufacturers, businesses, churches, and schools, just to name a few.”

“None of these groups should be penalized for their efforts to respond to a declared state of emergency,” he said. “They must be able to continue operating and serving the public without risk of unnecessary and frivolous claims.”

Lawmakers are already back in Jefferson City working on a supplemental budget to distribute federal coronavirus relief funds. 

The COVID liability call has three main protection components: health care workers providing necessary care during the ongoing state of emergency; manufacturers producing, designing, and selling goods directly related to the pandemic; and premises such as schools, churches, businesses, and nonprofits. The law would protect these entities from being held accountable for transmission or exposure claims on their premises or through their operations during the pandemic.

Parson said specifics of the legislation, including whether businesses that do not follow local health ordinances or CDC guidelines should be covered, would be determined by the legislature.  

The move quickly drew criticism from Brett Emison, immediate past president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA).

“Our lawmakers should enacting policies to protect the public against spreading the virus; not protecting irresponsible businesses from accountability when they fail to follow recommended guidelines,” Emison said in a statement.

The governor said he was open to expanding the session last month after initially recalling the legislature. Parson confirmed his intention to broaden the call in an interview with The Missouri Times earlier this week. 

The official proclamation said an emergency clause would be added to all legislation passed during the extraordinary session.

Parson said he hoped the provision would be completed by the week after Thanksgiving. 

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as GOP lawmakers Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin and incoming House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, have pushed for the governor to address COVID liability over the past few months. 

The extraordinary session — the second in 2020 — has focused on creating a supplemental budget using funds from the CARES Act, which must be used by the end of the year. The $1.2 billion package was approved by the House Tuesday with the Senate set to consider its side of the session later this month.