Two bills targeting issues growing out of the COVID-19 pandemic got a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Emerging Issues Committee.

One bill, SB 169, would restrict public entities from enforcing COVID-19 vaccinations while also providing employees protection from employers seeking to impose vaccination requirements. The other, HB 730, would restrict local entities from imposing a moratorium on evictions, addressing complaints raised by property owners during the pandemic.

Sen. Ben Brown, a Republican from Washington who sponsored the vaccine legislation, said he wants to create exemptions from medical requirements for employees with sincere religious objections or with medical conditions verified by a physician.

“If you’re a nurse that serves those with weakened or completely compromised immune systems, (lack of vaccination) should be a cause for you not to work in that environment,” he said.

Dillon said that many Missouri hospitals already have their own policies which provide exceptions, but that they’re more appropriately applied. Brown’s bill could throw into question whether a hospital can decide which workers are eligible for these exemptions.

A hospital should be able to determine that some employees aren’t eligible based on their responsibility to vulnerable patients, whereas a data-entry clerk can claim exemption without the same problems, he said. “There are very good reasons that hospitals are exceptional cases in this discussion.”

Megan Travis Henderson of MHA and Nikki Strong of the Missouri Health Care Association urged the committee that a mismatch between federal and state regulations on employee medical histories could be catastrophic. If the federal government discovered a lack of compliance with its standards, “we would have 90 days to fix the problem, and if you don’t, your doors close,” said Henderson.

Henderson described compliance with federal regulations as “what allows a hospital to accept Medicare money,” and to cooperate with private insurance. Without these forces, Henderson said she was confident that hospitals would falter and access to care would be significantly reduced.

Rep. Chris Brown, a Kansas City Republican and sponsor of the evictions legislation, said his bill is “in no way unsympathetic to renters,” but that “the bottom line is that Bank of America still expects (landlords) to pay up at the end of every month.”

Brown described the federal imposition of an eviction moratorium as “a clear, arbitrary seizure of private property,” and “an illegal act that should not have happened.”

Brown described both eviction moratoriums and a provision in the bill barring local governments from mandating residential inspections of rental property before it is sold as infringing upon property rights.

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

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