It was a relatively quiet week in the Missouri Senate this week, but even quieter in the House of Representatives. House leaders late last week announced the House would not be in session this week because several representatives and staff members had contracted COVID-19. The House currently is scheduled to return to work on Monday, Jan. 25, as several House committee hearings have been scheduled.
Senate committees held legislative hearings this week with COVID-19 as a related topic in the areas of liability protection for businesses against exposure claims, public schools in or out of session due to the pandemic, and legislation limiting county health departments from issuing orders resulting in excessive and often lengthy closings of local businesses.
During a briefing Jan. 20 at the state capitol, Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced the Missouri National Guard will begin assisting the Department of Health and Senior Services and other state partners in establishing COVID-19 vaccination sites across the state. A mass vaccination team will be assigned to each of Missouri’s nine Highway Patrol regions. “The purpose of these vaccination teams is to support our existing vaccinators and provide an additional vaccination source for eligible Missourians that may otherwise have a hard time receiving a vaccine,” Parson said. A mass vaccination site is scheduled to begin this week in the Southeastern region, and other sites will be operational in the remaining eight Highway Patrol regions by the end of January. In Boone County, for instance, possible vaccination locations being considered include MU’s Hearnes Center and the former Boone County Fairgrounds site. More details concerning dates and locations will be released once finalized.
COVID LIABILITY BILLS HEARD IN SENATE
Senate Bill 42 (White, R-Joplin) and Senate Bill 51 (Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville) was heard during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on January 19th.
Senate Bill 42 modifies provisions relating to liability for all civil damages resulting from the state of emergency due to COVID-19. The sponsor’s intent with the legislation is to provide protection for health care entities, manufacturers and businesses from liability. During bill presentation, committee members expressed concerns regarding the possibility of healthcare workers still being subjected to liability due to the ongoing shifting of guidelines with the continuance of various emergency declarations pertaining to COVID-19. Additionally, there was concern the limited language would inadvertently impact those who took no precautions to prevent COVID spread or exposure and would like to see the language broadened to ensure this would not happen.
The MO Civil Justice Reform Coalition, All State Insurance Company, American Tort Reform Association, US Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City Chiefs Football Club, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Ameren UE, Healthcare Services Group, MO Hospital Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Associated Industries of MO, Leading Age MO, Greater St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, Signature Medical Group and Surgery Centers, and MO Healthcare Association provided supporting testimony. The Conservative Americans Club, MO Association of Trial Attorneys, and over 250 private citizens provided opposing testimony.
Senate Bill 51 establishes protections against liability in COVID-19 related actions. During bill presentation, the sponsor stated this legislation was not dissimilar to the “good Samaritan” legislation put into place for those seeking to help others. The MO Civil Justice Reform Coalition, Allstate Insurance Company, American Tort Reform Association, US Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City Chiefs Football Club, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Ameren UE, Hospital Services Group, MO Organization of Defense Lawyers, Missouri Hospital Association, MO Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Associated Industries of MO, Greater St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, and Signature Medical Group and Surgery Centers provided supporting testimony. The Conservative Americans Club, Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, and over 300 private citizens provided opposing testimony.
Senate Bill 12 (Onder, R-Lake St. Louis) Senate Bill 20 (Hoskins, R-Warrensburg) Senate Bill 21 (Koenig, R-Manchester) Senate Bill 31 (Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit) Senate Bill 56 (O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina) Senate Bill 67 (Brattin, R-Harrisonville) Senate Bill 68 (Brattin, R-Harrisonville) The bills are a legislative reaction to measures taken by governmental entities to regulate persons and businesses during periods of emergency related to infectious or contagious diseases, and place limitations on power of local government entities and non-elected officials to impose inconsistent and unequal regulation on business, religious activity, and persons in their private homes. A joint hearing of the bills was held on January 20 by the Senate Health and Pensions Committee. Testimony in favor of the legislation primarily directed toward Senate Bill 21 was offered by the Missouri Restaurant Association (one in three that closed will not reopen), several Missouri restaurant owners, the Randolph County Presiding Commissioner, a commercial real estate owner and the owner of a catering company. A Springfield and Greene County health official, the Missouri State Medical Association, the Editor of the Baptist publication Word and Way testified in opposition. The committee is expected to examine the bills and take further action on January 27.