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Missouri lawmakers make push to pass COVID-19 legislation

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Nearing the end of the regular legislative session, lawmakers in Jefferson City supported a variety of COVID-19 liability provisions Wednesday, many of which had previously been brought to the House and Senate floors.

All the provisions fell under House Bill 682, which is not connected to the pandemic but prohibits higher education institutions from requiring students to live on campus for more than one year. The overarching bill was sponsored by Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville.

The COVID-19-related amendments to the bill would:
• 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; and
• limit the scope and duration of emergency health orders issued by state and local governments.

Various amendments were debated on the House floor for hours Wednesday afternoon. House Amendment 3, sponsored by Rep. Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, was particularly contentious.

Pollock’s amendment stated that public schools would not be allowed to require students to be vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria or hepatitis B. In short, parents could choose to “opt out” of these vaccines.

Missouri allows vaccination exemptions for religious or medical reasons. But Pollock said it is difficult for families to actually opt out of vaccinations, so the amendment would have made the process easier.

Pollock’s amendment faced heavy opposition from both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers said expanding vaccination exemptions would put vulnerable Missourians, such as immunocompromised children, at a heightened risk of becoming seriously ill.

Rep. Mike Stephens, R-Bolivar, said that by removing vaccination mandates, lawmakers would send “a clear message, an anti-vaccine message” to Missourians.

“Vaccines have a wonderful history of preventing disease and saving millions of lives throughout the world,” Stephens said. “But no medicine that you inject or take into your body will be completely safe for everybody, all the time.”

Stephens, who chairs the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee, said that regardless of how well-intentioned Pollock’s amendment was, it would send the wrong message.

Other lawmakers explained that although they vaccinated their children, they are in favor of individual freedom.

“I believe in vaccinations — my children and my grandchildren have their vaccinations,” Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, said. “I think people should get vaccinated, but I truly believe that it is a parent’s right to make this decision.”

After over an hour of deliberation, Pollock’s amendment reached a roll-call vote in the House. The bipartisan body shot down the provision with a vote of 79-67.

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