Missouri lawmakers approve bill to rein in local health departments’ restriction authority

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KTVI) – Missouri lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday aimed at creating more oversight when it comes to public health orders. HB 271 now heads to the governor’s desk for consideration.

The bill would give locally elected governments the authority to end health department restrictions that last more than 30 days.

Rep. Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis County) was among several lawmakers pushing for the change. He said health departments can still order shutdowns but county councils can vote to end or extend orders.

“During a statewide emergency, they only need a majority vote of the council to extend it,” said Murphy. “During non-emergency times, they need a two-thirds vote.”

Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis), another supporter of the legislation, said restrictions handed down in St. Louis County, such as indoor dining restrictions, cost workers their jobs without evidence the restrictions were effective.

He said of the legislation passed Wednesday, “This was a step to rein in the COVID tyranny and restoring the rights that are Missourians under our constitution, under our statutes, and yes, even under the St. Louis County charter.”

Protests over restrictions targeted St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page and his administration last year. When lawmakers in St. Louis County considered similar legislation last year, St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force incident commander Dr. Alex Garza expressed concerns. He sent a letter to the council chair stating current authority granted to the county executive and public health director is required to best serve the community.

St. Louis County Chief Communications Officer Doug Moore released the following statement Wednesday in response to the legislature’s action:

“Public health decisions are best made by public health experts in the Department of Public Health. When the bill becomes effective, members of the County Council will participate in the very difficult decisions on protecting the health and safety of those in our most vulnerable communities.”

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