Dueling Senate, House crackdowns on Missouri public health officials emerge


The Missouri House on Monday refused to endorse an avalanche of Senate amendments restricting local public health officials’ emergency powers and banning “vaccine passports” on an unrelated bill it had already adopted.

The House Monday kicked House Bill 271 back in a message to the Senate, “House Refuses to Adopt, Requests Senate to Recede or Grant Conference” in reference to a raft of 30 amendments, SS#2, the Senate added to the bill when it passed 25-6 on April 28.

The message calls for a conference committee between the chambers to synthesize the amended HB 271 with another House-adopted bill limiting local public health officials’ authority before the session adjourns May 14.

HB 75, sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, adopted in a 114-44 March 11 vote, would allow local public health officials to order a closure for no more than 15 days. Any further orders, or extensions beyond 15 days, must be approved by a city council or county commission for no more than 10 days by a two-thirds vote.

HB 75 has been passed by the Senate Health & Pensions Committee and is on the chamber’s informal calendar but will now likely be merged or tossed aside in favor of the newly amended HB 271.

HB 271, filed by House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. John Wiemann, R-O’Falion, creates the Missouri Local Government Expenditure Database to be maintained by the Missouri Office of Administration.

Under the bill, the database would include information about local government taxing, spending, contractors and vendors by 2023.

HB 271 was approved by the House 149-2 on Feb. 18 but didn’t get its first Senate committee hearing until March 31.

It arrived on the Senate floor for a final vote last Tuesday in its original three-page version but swelled by 30 amendments to 101 pages by the time it was adopted Wednesday and sent back to the House.

Among amendments is a measure sponsored by Sen. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, to require local public health officials get approval from city/county elected boards to extend emergency health restrictions beyond a 30 days.

The amendment is Onder’s Senate Bill 12, which died in March after an eight-hour Senate floor debate.

Under the amendment, restrictions issued during a state of emergency are capped at 30 days in a 180-day period. Thirty-day extensions could be approved by simple majority vote local city/county governing bodies after a report justifies the need for an extension.

Health orders issued outside a state of emergency would be limited to 21 days in a 180-day period and require two-thirds majority vote to be extended.

Local governing bodies would also have the authority to terminate any health order by a simple majority vote, under the newly-broadened HB 271, and local public health departments under multiple counties would require approval from the governing body in each county.

“This particular amendment embodies a compromise that I think most everyone would agree with, which is, that in our Democratic republic, there should always be accountability, ultimately to the people through their elected officials,” Onder said last week.

Another HB 271 amendment filed by Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, prohibits local governments from requiring residents provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access transportation or public accommodations.

Under a separate amendment sponsored by Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, taxpayers who paid late fees because of U.S. Postal Service delays would receive a credit for 2021 tax bills equal to what they paid in late fees.

The amendment is a response to St. Louis County residents hit with substantial penalties by the St. Louis County Collector of Revenue because tax payments were postmarked after Jan. 1.

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