JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After a four-hour debate last month, Missouri senators are back debating if local health officials have too much power when it comes to public health emergencies.

The Senate started debating Sen. Bob Onder’s (R-Lake St. Louis) bill just before 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night. The legislation would limit local health departments from the number of days orders and regulations can be in effect. Anything over 15 days in a 180-day period would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of local governing bodies.

“Public authorities have said we don’t have to follow ordinances, we don’t have to follow charters, we don’t have to follow a delegation of state statute. we rely on this rule that I think they are incorrectly interpreting and having power directly delegated to the department,” Onder said.

Under this legislation, the state and county officials cannot restrict the exercise of religion, including attendance, meetings, services or religious activities.

Democrats have expressed their concerns about future consequences of this legislation.

“I believe that this pandemic was certainly unlike anything I’ve experienced, not even in the past, it’s still here,” Sen. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) said. “I want to make sure our local authorities have the ability to make some decisions about what is in the best interest of paying attention to the health and science to what helps make those determinations.”

Another Republican senator has stated throughout the conversation he believes local authorities have overstepped their boundaries.

“This pandemic has showed a problem in our laws that need to be fixed,” Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester).

During the discussion on the floor, Sen. Steven Roberts (D-St. Louis) asked Koenig if he thinks local health officials closed businesses on purpose.

“Would you agree that those local governments in both of those situations, with banning the kids’ sports, with the year shut down in my district for businesses, that our public health officials were acting in the best interest with the information they had at hand?” Roberts asked.

“I mean, they didn’t set out to destroy these businesses,” Koenig responded. “I don’t think that was their intend, but I think what we’ve seen is there’s been tunnel vision where they only thing they look at is COVID without looking at any other impact to anything else.”

Gov. Mike Parson has previously said some local officials abused their power and the state should “revisit those issues of how we conduct ourselves and how we do that.”