(The Center Square) – The Missouri Senate deliberated for more than eight hours into the wee hours of Thursday before rejecting a proposed bill that would restrict local health officials’ emergency powers in a 19-11 vote.
Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder’s, R-Lake Saint Louis, had been lid over for revision in early February before being reintroduced on the Senate floor on March 8.
Nevertheless, the revised SB 12 – an amalgamation of a half-dozen bills that had advanced through various stages of committee reviews – failed to pass the “perfection” debate.
The House passed its version of a bill restricting local authority in public health emergency in a 114-44 vote on March 11.
House Bill 75, sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, 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 read once on the Senate floor. With SB 12 derailed again, the House measure now becomes the measure the Republican-controlled Legislature adopts and sends to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.
Eight Republicans joined 11 Democrats in rejecting SB 12, which would have prohibited local governments and officials from restricting the number of people gathering or residing on private residential property during a public health emergency.
SB 12 also sought to ban local governments and officials from restricting travel and imposing public health orders that directly or indirectly close or restrict businesses, churches, schools, for longer than 15 days within a 180-day span without approval from county and city elected councils.
Under the bill, taxpayers in communities that imposed shutdowns longer than 15 days could apply for a tax credit for fees owed on real property.
“We’ve discussed the distinction between traditional public health functions, such as ensuring food safety and responding to natural disasters, and the widespread and sometimes arbitrary shutdowns of an entire class of businesses,” Onder said Wednesday afternoon. “These additions are consistent with longstanding constitutional principles that we all enjoy under the Bill of Rights.”
Much of the debate that extended into Thursday morning centered on a series of failed amendments, including one by Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, which would have sunset the bill a year after adoption.
“What about the next pandemic?” Roberts said. “If we deal with something more serious, I wouldn’t want us to be shortsighted and think maybe we’re limiting the local governments — it’s local governments that have their finger on the pulse of our communities.”
SB 12 incorporated provisions from six bills. They are:
- SB 20 would require 30 days of public comment on any proposed public health restrictions before they can be imposed.
- SB 21 would create a tax credit for business owners forced to close during a state of emergency, prohibit county health boards from requiring persons in quarantine isolate from members of the same physical household and bar hospitals from restricting visitation by a pregnant or new mother.
- SB 56 seeks to strip county health boards of the power to impose restrictions and give that authority to elected councils and commissions.
- SB 31 would require local government boards agree to extend or end any emergency declared by public health officials after 30 days.
- SB 67/SB 68 would prohibit state or local officials from “governing the number of people gathering or residing on private residential property during a declared state of emergency” and “enacting, adopting, maintaining, or enforcing measures that would restrict, directly or indirectly, the free exercise of religion.”