JEFFERSON CITY — Four bills which involve placing limitations on county officials issuing orders in a state of emergency were passed by a House committee Tuesday.
The bills now head to the full House of Representatives.
House Bill 75, which limits the authority for public county officials to order the closure of schools, businesses and public gatherings for more than 15 days without approval from a legislative body, was approved 13-4 by the Special Committee on Small Business.
Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis, who sponsored the bill, said the intention of the bill is not to take away local control but instead monitor it.
“St. Louis County has different rules than St. Louis city or Jefferson County. You’re not really doing anything by closing anything down because they’re just moving from location to location,” Murphy said. “If nothing else, you might just be spreading what’s going on. So you really need to have some uniformity. So at some point, it needs to move up the ladder so that the data can be looked at more regionally.”
Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, said he doesn’t share Murphy’s confidence in the state General Assembly to make the most appropriate decisions when overseeing local responses to health and safety.
“I have more confidence in people who are doctors and specialists in public health and have degrees and pandemic management (expertise),” Butz said. “I’ll just say if it went to a vote in our assembly, I think it’s pretty clear to say that — I’m just speculating — that a majority of voters in our assembly would vote to overrule the actions of health departments.”
Similarly, House Bill 288 and House Bill 572 state that county ordinances initiated by county health officials in a state of emergency will not go into effect unless approved by a county commission. Both bills passed with votes of 12-5.
House Bill 602 was also passed 12-5 and involves multiple elements, including a 30-day expiration on health orders in a state of emergency unless otherwise instructed by the governor or General Assembly to terminate the order earlier. It also would require expedited judicial review of such orders.