(The Center Square) – The day after the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force ended live stream briefings, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill restricting local leaders from imposing public health orders.
Republican legislators repeatedly pointed to the public health orders of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, as the motivation for the bill.
If the governor declares a state of emergency, the new law stops local governments from issuing public health orders that directly or indirectly restrict access to businesses, churches, schools or other places of assembly for more than 30 days in a 180-day period. However, orders can be extended more than once with a simple majority vote by the local governing body. Without the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency, local governments may issue orders restricting access for no more than 21 days in a 180-day period, and multiple extensions can be enacted with a two-thirds vote by the local governing body.
“This legislation I am signing today requires local leaders to be more transparent in their reasoning and accountable for their decisions when it comes to public health orders,” Parson said in a statement announcing the signing.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed suit against Page in May over the restrictions. Schmitt, a Republican who’s running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, dropped the lawsuit in June as local restrictions were lifted.
Dr. Alex Garza, leader of the task force, urged the governor for a statewide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic. Parson, who contracted Covid-19 along with his wife last fall during the gubernatorial campaign, repeatedly stated he wouldn’t impose any statewide restrictions and said local leaders were best able to serve their communities.
In February, Garza questioned what he said were low amounts of COVID-19 vaccine distributed by the state to the St. Louis region. Parson responded by accusing Garza of spreading “false information about the vaccine administration in the St. Louis area to once more spread fear and panic. The people of St. Louis, Missouri, deserve better from their local leaders.”
Several legislators criticized pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings in St. Louis County by its health department and Page, who was appointed interim county executive to replace Steve Stenger after his resignation and eventual guilty plea and prison term for corruption charges. Page, an anesthesiologist, was criticized by fellow Democrats for the restrictions during last August’s primary and the general election campaign. He was elected in November with 58% of the vote.
“As a medical doctor, I had the opportunity to take care of patients during the pandemic… as our hospitals filled up with patients who were very sick with a deadly virus,” Page said Monday while joined by Garza, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and county executives from St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson during the final live stream. “Seeing firsthand the impact of the pandemic made it clear to me that restrictions we put in place to stop the spread of the virus in our community were good decisions. And those decisions saved lives.”
House Bill 271 is an 11-page omnibus bill. It also prohibits local, publicly funded agencies from requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination for people to use public services. It also created a local government expenditure database to allow taxpayers to access information on expenditures and payments made by counties and municipalities.
In a statement, bill sponsor and House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, said the legislation will “make it easier for taxpayers to hold local officials and governments accountable for spending decisions. … When we shine a brighter light on how government spends the people’s money, it leads to better outcomes for Missouri taxpayers.”