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Parson signs limits on local pandemic orders, 'vaccine passports'

Parson signs limits on local pandemic orders, 'vaccine passports'

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JEFFERSON CITY — Saying the plan forced more transparency from local leaders, Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday signed a law that will limit the authority of health officials to issue pandemic-related orders designed to slow the spread of deadly diseases.

“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, a Republican, said in a statement.

The legislation allows a local health agency to issue public health orders — similar to the type issued during the pandemic — for no longer than 30 days before a county's governing body must act to extend the order by a simple majority.

If there is no declared state of emergency by the Missouri governor, the local governing board would have to approve extension of the order by a two-thirds vote after 21 days.

Parson's approval follows a hands-off strategy toward local governments during the pandemic. Some counties implemented rules more stringent than Parson would mandate, such as masking requirements.

But restrictions, including on indoor dining in St. Louis County, drew heavy criticism from GOP politicians, some business owners and others. Critics channeled frustration into legislation this year in Jefferson City.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, arguably received the most criticism in response to local restrictions.

In a statement Monday, Doug Moore, Page's spokesman, contended experts should be making public health decisions.

“Public health decisions are best made by public health experts in the Department of Public Health,” he said in a statement. “When the bill becomes effective, members of the County Council will participate in the very difficult decisions on protecting the health and safety of those in our most vulnerable communities.”

The new limits on local health orders take effect immediately because lawmakers added an emergency clause to the legislation.

The bill Parson signed Tuesday also forbids governments from requiring "COVID-19 passports" by requiring someone to show proof of vaccination to access a transportation system or other public accommodation.

The legislation "prohibits local, publicly funded entities from requiring a vaccine passport in order for residents to use public services, and while we encourage all Missourians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is not the government's job to force them," Parson said.

In addition to the pandemic-related provisions, the legislation also creates the Missouri Local Government Expenditure Database, which the state Office of Administration will maintain; the database will contain information on local spending and vendors.

"When we shine a brighter light on how government spends the people’s money, it leads to better outcomes for Missouri taxpayers,” House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

The legislation is House Bill 271.

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