JEFFERSON CITY — An attempt to create liability immunity during a state of emergency ended when Gov. Mike Parson dropped the issue from the agenda for the legislature’s special session.
The Senate Committee on Government Reform held a lengthy hearing on the proposal, including much debate among senators and members of the public who testified. But the hearing ended with no vote being held on the proposal, which would have created liability protections for health care workers, manufacturers and premises responding to a declared state of emergency from potential class action lawsuits.
Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, who carried the bill, said he was informed of the governor’s decision to drop the liability protections from special session during last night’s hearing, which is why the committee didn’t take any action.
While Emery has not spoken with the governor directly, he said he assumes the governor didn’t feel the provisions were ready to be voted on but that the Senate will still aggressively pursue work on the bill.
“I’m guessing that because we were considering a Senate committee substitute that had some additional language and also some additional definitions in it, that he may have been uneasy with what was contained in that and didn’t feel like he had fully vetted it with his staff,” Emery said.
House Minority Leader Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said the governor’s decision to drop the liability protections is an example of poor governing.
“Gov. Parson’s inability to build legislative support before pursuing controversial legislation will continue to doom his agenda,” Quade said in a news release. “After his last failed special session earlier this year, you would have thought he’d learned his lesson. With his election to a full term, we sincerely hope he soon realizes his scattershot approach to governing isn’t effective.”
During the hearing, senators and members of the public who testified held opposing views on whether the provisions would be helpful or harmful to the state.
Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, said the bill is intended to be a “safe harbor for heroes.”
White also said the liability protections will encourage companies to respond to emergencies knowing they are protected under the bill. He said he “wants companies to respond because it saves lives.”
Attorney Mark Moreland testified against the bill and said he THINKS the liability protections prevent companies from taking responsibility for wrongdoing.
Moreland said the bill could “protect our heroes,” but it might instead “take away personal responsibility from product manufacturers, nursing homes and yes, even hospitals.”
Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, said that many of her constituents, including health care workers and business owners, have expressed fear of being sued because of threats from the public and constant changes with health guidelines.
“They’re telling me that their residents’ families are telling them, ‘If you let my loved one get COVID, I’m going to sue you,’” Crawford said.
Moreland said since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak no such lawsuits have been filed in Missouri and class actions will not be filed unless a company has been negligent. He also said if companies aren’t using their best practices, then they should take responsibility in order to ensure public safety.