Local, state officials say St. Louis mayor ‘overreach’ extends beyond mask mandate

(The Center Square) – Mayor Tishaura Jones is among St. Louis city and county officials being sued by the state over her reimposition of indoor mask mandates, a decision the board of alderman president called an “abuse of power.”

Jones, however, is not shying away from unilateral executive action, saying she is “evaluating” allocating about $80 million of the city’s $168 million in federal pandemic aid without Board of Aldermen approval.

The proclamation she signed Friday, which re-imposes mask mandates, provides that authority, she said, citing an opinion by City Counselor Matt Moak.

Board President Lewis Reed disagrees. In a Monday statement, he called Friday’s proclamation “an obvious overreach and abuse of power.”

St. Louis County and city implemented a joint order requiring masks be worn beginning Monday by everyone 5 years old and older indoors regardless of vaccination status. There is no end date to the order, which had been lifted two months ago.

Nearly 11,000 positive coronavirus cases have been reported statewide in the last seven days, along with 18 deaths, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) COVID-19 dashboard.

Nearly 1,700 were hospitalized, including 471 in ICUs, with 1,570 new cases being diagnosed on average daily.

Less than a month ago – the week ending July 4 – 626 new cases were reported, an average of less than 100 new cases daily.

St. Louis health officials insist masks are necessary because only 35% of the city’s, 45% of the county’s, population has completed vaccination.

“We are among the first counties to reinstate a mask requirement,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told reporters Monday. “Let’s be among the first to eradicate this pandemic.”

As he vowed to do in a series of weekend tweets, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt Monday evening filed a lawsuit to block the order, calling it “unacceptable and unconstitutional” by local governments with a “history of unconstitutional restrictions.”

The 37-page lawsuit, filed in the 21st Judicial Circuit Court, maintains a mask mandate for children is arbitrary, could hamper a child’s development and restrict religious exercise.

The lawsuit demands the order be declared “unconstitutional, unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and invalid.”

“This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine,” Schmitt said. “There’s absolutely no scientific reason to continue to force children to wear a mask in school. I will continue to fight this seemingly unending control and intrusion on peoples’ lives – we will not back down.”

Schmitt’s lawsuit notes House Bill 271, adopted this year and signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson this month, requires a report detailing why such an order is necessary – something Schmitt said the city and county failed to do.

Several St. Louis County mayors say they won’t enforce the order. St. Louis County Councilwoman Shalonda Webb blasted Jones and Page for imposing the mandate without input from the council.

“Chaos and dysfunction in government only adds to people’s belief that their government cannot be trusted,” she said.

Parson piped in criticism of the mandates in Monday tweets.

“Dictating mask mandates when we have the vaccine is ignoring the real solution and eroding public trust,” he wrote. “From the very beginning of this pandemic, we have recognized the importance of local control; however, re-imposing mask mandates regardless of vaccination status is WRONG and goes against current CDC guidelines.”

The universal mask order will “reduce the incentive of getting the vaccine and undermine its integrity. The vaccine is how we rid ourselves of COVID-19, not mask mandates that ignore common sense,” he concluded.

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