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Capitol Briefs: Senate debates bill lessening power of local officials during health emergencies

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate debated a bill from Sen. Bob Onder that seeks to lessen the power local officials have during public health emergencies for about four hours Wednesday before it was laid over. 

SB 12 prohibits political subdivisions from imposing rules restricting the number of people gathering or residing on private residential property during a state of emergency related to public health. 

It also restricts political subdivisions from imposing a public health order that directly or indirectly closes or restricts businesses, churches, schools, and other places from operating for longer than 15 days within a 180-day period with some exceptions. A two-thirds vote of the political subdivision’s governing body could enact a second 15-day period shutdown; another two-thirds vote could enact a third seven-day shutdown; another two-thirds vote could enact a fourth seven-day shutdown. 

Additional orders would need a concurrent resolution from the General Assembly. The bill also requires a public health order to be accompanied by a public report supporting a shutdown order. 

“COVID-19 has been the most politicized disease in human history,” Onder said from the Senate floor. 

  • The bill was placed on the informal calendar as Sens. Jill Schupp and Andrew Koenig were engaged in a spirited debate about the safety of the Capitol building. In an emotional moment, Schupp said her family begged her to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she chose to come to the Capitol to ensure her constituents were taken care of. Koenig argued business owners and other Missourians should be able to make the same decision of whether to attend work. 
  • Senators spent time debating an amendment from Sen. Dan Hegeman that would require a two-thirds vote from a political subdivision’s governing bodies to extend public health orders. Sen. Jill Schupp offered an amendment to the amendment changing that to just a simple majority. After lengthy debate, Hegeman withdrew the amendment. 
  • An amendment from Sen. Steven Roberts allowing dentists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine was defeated. Another amendment changing the language from saying “any restrictions” to “undue restrictions” was also defeated. 
  • The bill includes language from legislation drafted by Sens. Onder, Koenig, Denny Hoskins, Mike Cierpiot, Cindy O’Laughlin, and Rick Brattin. The bills went through the Senate Health and Pensions Committee last month. 
  • During debate, conservative senators largely criticized St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including his decision to shutter restaurants. 
  • Some senators also pointed to Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to leave many COVID-related decisions to local leaders during floor debate. They raised concerns that this legislation prohibits that.