Lawmakers tack on COVID-19 amendments to higher education bill

JUDY LUCAS
Missouri News Network

With time in the session running out, lawmakers have been hastily pushing COVID-19-related amendments onto bills set to be sent to the governor.

During session Monday, the House debated a bill that, on its surface, prohibits higher education institutions from requiring students to live on campus for more than one year.

The higher education bill, House Bill 682, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Phelps, now includes many of the amendments lawmakers have been trying to get passed concerning COVID-19 restrictions.

Various amendments to the bill would do the following:

  • Protect local businesses from criminal and civil liability due to accidental exposure to COVID-19.
  • Prohibit government from closing businesses or requiring individuals to quarantine without strong evidence of the presence of a contagious disease.
  • Prohibit all state departments and agencies from requiring their employees, or anyone who enters their buildings, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Limit the scope and duration of emergency health orders issued by state and local governments.

The bill passed through the House on Monday in a vote of 102-50 and now continues on to the Senate.

The House also adopted an emergency clause on House Amendment 6, sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis.

The amendment makes emergency health orders issued by state and local governments expire after 15 days, unless the orders are voted to be extended by the government entity’s legislative body. The goal has been to limit the power of local health department officials.

In short, an emergency clause declares that all or part of a bill will be effective sooner than the default timing of 90-days after the session it is passed, which is in mid-August.

One lawmaker asked why an emergency clause is necessary when cities and counties are beginning to remove restrictions.

“There are still restrictions in St. Louis County on whether or not kids should wear masks when they’re playing sports,” Murphy replied.