Missouri House passes legislation limit local health departments’ power, protects businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Protecting businesses, churches, and schools from lawsuits regarding the pandemic is one of Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s top priorities this legislative session.

COVID liability has been brought up more than a dozen times this session, but the problem is, it’s still not across the finish line. The Senate passed its own version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville) over a month ago. The House passed its own version Tuesday and it includes limiting health departments’ power.

“It’s been probably the number one topic of discussion for many of us here in the body over the past year and there’s no single policy or solution that is suitable to everyone’s needs and desires and we have seen that take place,” said Rep. Ben Baker (R-Neosho).

Besides lawsuits, Baker’s bill, HB 1358, also strips some power away from local health departments like barring them from quarantining a person.

“A lot of the government mandated responses to contagious diseases always seem to place unequal burdens on people with varying circumstances,” Baker said. “Fear of legal liability associated with COVID-19 has placed a lot of pressures on the private sector.”

It also would prohibit states, counties and cities from issuing health orders like wearing a mask and limiting indoor dining. Across the aisle, some are concerned what this could do for future health emergencies.

“What would happen when the next coronavirus comes around and we have a 3% death rate or if we have a death rate that is affecting young people more and we are boxed-in by this kind of legislation because this is not just looking backwards, it’s looking forward to the next epidemic,” Rep. Barbara Phifer (D-St. Louis) said.

Last week, the House voted down Luetkemeyer’s Senate Bill 51, which included medical malpractice lawsuits.

Parson said he still wants to see this legislation make it to his desk this session.

“COVID-19 was important, I think it’s important to protect our healthcare workers that have been on the frontline, a lot of people who’ve been out there in our communities that were doing things under some of the most unusual circumstances,” Parson said.

The bill passed the House on Tuesday with support from both sides of the aisle. The Senate has less than two weeks to approve the legislation and send it to the governor before the session ends May 14.

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