JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The length of shutdowns and restrictions Missourians say during COVID will not be controlled by state law.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed House Bill 271 Tuesday which restricts local governments on health orders and prohibits the requirement of vaccine passports. Parson, along with some local leaders and state lawmakers, said some health officials abused their power during the pandemic and now they must pay the consequences.
“Everybody in this state knows that there was overreach in some parts of the state,” Parson said.
The order will only allow public health orders to restrict direct or indirect access to businesses, churches, school, etc. for 30 calendar days in a 180-day period when the governor has declared a state of emergency. Any extension requires a majority vote from the local government.
“Nobody should be out there by themself making rules and regulations because of what they think is right,” Parson said. “I have been adamant of local control ever since I’ve been in government, but I will also tell when pandemic occurred, there was overreach on the local levels and we’ve seen it in different parts of the state and there’s going to be consequences.”
If no state of emergency is in place, restrictions may only be made for 21 calendar days and an extension requires a two-thirds vote from the local government.
“This legislation I am signing today requires local leaders to be more transparent in their reasoning and accountable for their decisions when it comes to public health orders,” Parson said. “It also prohibits local, publicly funded entities from requiring a vaccine passport in order for residents to use public services, and while we encourage all Missourians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is not the government’s job to force them.”
St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder attended the bill signing in Jefferson City Tuesday.
“What happened in the last year and a half is the county executive of St. Louis County in conjunction with our health department put together mandates that dealt with masking to how people gather in churches or in schools,” Harder said. “We need to have that input to help our citizens get through whatever the emergency is and to do it in a way that respects their freedoms.”
Harder and other council members have previously said that St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page overstepped his boundaries with contact mandates.
“Counties that were locked down tight like St. Louis County are not much different than other counties like St. Charles that did not lock down as tight, honored peoples’ freedom and were still able to keep people safe and businesses open,” Harder said.
Chief Communications Officer for St. Louis County Doug Moore said in response to the legislation, “Public health decisions are best made by public health experts in the Department of Public Health. When the bill becomes effective, members of the County Council will participate in the very difficult decisions on protecting the health and safety of those in our most vulnerable communities.”
Moore said there are still four different health orders still in effect in St. Louis County and this new law will not impact them.
The orders include reporting of positive cases, deaths, providing shelter for unhoused people and containment of positive/presumed positive cases in residential living facilities.
In southwest Missouri, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department had restrictions approved by local government.
“Health director should be at debt managing local politics to protect their people,” former director of SGCHD Clay Goddard said. “It gets a little bit dangerous when we start trying to delegate processes from Jefferson City before local decision makers.”
Goddard worked for SGCHD for 25 years and left after three years of being the director in February and now works for the Missouri Foundation of Health. He fears this legislation could cost lives.
“In a time of an emergency, you can’t always wait for the legislative process,” Goddard said. “This is important work, and you can’t delay those types of actions if you really want to be affective and save lives.”
HB 271 also prohibits any local government that receives public funds from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or vaccine passports to access transportation systems or other public services.
Missouri’s state of emergency is still in effect until Aug. 28, which Parson said is more of a “bureaucracy, administrative” thing.
“It also gives us a little capability to have access to the guard if we still need it,” Parson said. “It really has nothing to do with the regularly side of what we are talking about today.”
Since state emergency went into effect, Parson said he has waived more than 600 regulations.