Republican state lawmakers unhappy with some of the restrictions cities and counties are imposing to fight COVID-19 are now looking to give themselves veto power.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, and Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, said Tuesday they’re both filing legislation to put time limits on local health orders and require local officials to seek legislative approval to extend them.
Koenig’s bill is the stricter of the two.
It would bar city and county officials from imposing restrictions for any more than 14 days over a two-year period without the legislature’s say-so.
The bill would also ban all restrictions on religious institutions and prohibit governments from collecting property taxes from businesses while they’re shut down.
Murphy’s bill would make local officials get permission from the state health department for an order lasting more than 45 days and legislature’s say-so to go more than 90 days.
Both men said the idea is to rein in local leaders they think are going overboard right now. They cast St. Louis County Executive Sam Page as the prime instigator.
Page, a Democrat, recently banned indoor dining at bars and restaurants and any gathering, even in a home, of more than 10 people.
He said it was necessary to stem a rise in cases and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.
But Koenig said the St. Louis County restrictions on restaurants were not about public health, but “control,” and told supporters at a news conference Tuesday that his bill would “end the unnecessary restrictions on our churches, our businesses and our families.”
Murphy said he didn’t necessarily intend to “end” local orders, but impose “oversight.”
“We’re killing people’s livelihoods, and it takes a little oversight to make sure the cure isn’t worse than the disease,” he said.
The proposals, which would also apply to Springfield and the rest of the state, come at a time when more and more local governments are putting rules in place to combat a rapid increase in cases and hospitalizations this fall.
More than a dozen smaller cities and counties imposed or re-imposed mask mandates last month as the state added more than 100,000 of its 300,000 total cases, and several did not have expiration dates.
It is difficult to say how those rules would fare in the legislature.
Koenig, for his part, said at the Tuesday news conference he supports social distancing and mask-wearing, but not everyone in the legislature feels the same.
Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, tweeted last month that “masks don’t work against COVID” despite a large body of research indicating that they do.
It’s not clear how the bills will be received, either.
Gov. Mike Parson, another Republican, has repeatedly resisted calls for statewide mandates from his office by saying that local officials should make the call on restrictions.
And when he was asked about St. Louis County’s tougher-than-average restrictions in May, Parson said, “I don’t want to be telling these cities and counties exactly how to run their business.”
Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard said he hopes that sentiment holds.
Springfield currently requires most businesses to operate at half capacity and mandates mask-wearing in public when social distancing isn’t possible, which Goddard says has helped reduce the number of cases that would otherwise have occurred.
“I’m proud of the efforts we’ve put in place, I’d hate to see them compromised because someone is mad at a county executive in St. Louis,” he said.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.