Gov. Parson sworn-in at Bicentennial Inauguration

A B-2 Stealth Bomber performs a fly-over the State Capitol following the swearing-in of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in Jefferson City on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Photo by Robert Cohen, Content Exchange

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House propelled a plan to limit health departments and COVID-19 lawsuits to the Senate on Tuesday, keeping the effort to rein in both alive in the legislative session's final days.

The plan approved Tuesday, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, exempts individuals and businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits unless a person or entity acts intentionally to expose another person, and that person contracts and suffers a clinical disease.

The bill strips state and local governments' ability to quarantine people, or issue "stay at home orders" applying to people who haven't tested positive for a contagious disease.

It also stops the revocation of any business license "based on an individual's or entity's decision regarding recommendations from a government or scientific entity." 

The latest version of the proposal follows a House committee's action last week to vote down a Senate proposal dealing with COVID-19 lawsuits.

Rep. Wes Rogers, D-Kansas City, said the version voted on Tuesday was preferable to the version voted down last week. He said people will still be able to sue nursing homes for negligence if the measure the House approved becomes law.

"The original bill gave blanket immunity to negligent nursing homes. This bill does not," said Rogers, who supported the bill that was approved.

But Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said other than purposeful exposure, the bill still gives nursing homes blanket immunity in COVID-19 exposure cases, or immunity when future diseases emerge.

"It's overbroad," Merideth said. "It waves liability for any reason unless there was purposeful contact, and it applies to any disease down the road."

Merideth also slammed other portions of the bill that limit health authorities, such as wording restricting quarantines and stay-at-home orders.

"If you an outbreak in a small group of people you have to isolate them until you've confirmed the people that you're letting out don't have it," Merideth said. "That's how quarantine works."

The House sent the legislation to the Senate on a 117-23 vote.

Merideth was one of 23 Democrats to vote against the bill; 14 voted for it.

The Senate has less than two weeks to approve the House plan and send the package to Gov. Mike Parson, who has backed lawsuit protections for businesses.

Parson has also delegated many pandemic protocols to local governments, allowing them to set standards more stringent than the state's for the duration of the pandemic.

The legislation is House Bill 1358.

Jack Suntrup • 573-556-6186

@JackSuntrup on Twitter

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