Missouri lame-duck lawmakers to adopt COVID-19 liability bill by year’s end


Missouri lawmakers are going to pass a COVID-19 liability protections bill for businesses before year’s end in a lame duck session.

The only uncertainty is whether that lame duck session will happen next week when Senate convenes to review the $1.27 billon federal pandemic assistance spending plan the House approved Tuesday, or in a December special session, which would be the third called since the Legislature adjourned in May.

Gov. Mike Parson Tuesday said after meeting with Senate and House leadership this week in Jefferson City, that he is “moving forward with” expanding the under way special session he called in October to address COVID liability issues to include COVID-19 liability issues.

Parson teased Tuesday there would be an official announcement in the “next couple of days” spelling out the parameters of a proposed COVID liability plan that wouldn’t take several months for lawmakers to approve.

“We want to make sure we give relief to the hospitals, the schools, the business people that’s been out there trying to help everybody all through the COVID [pandemic],” Parson told The Missouri Times. “We don’t want to subject them to lawsuits who are just trying to save people’s lives. We’re going to try to put something in place to protect them.”

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, told Missourinet Tuesday that he expects the Missouri House to return to a special session to work on COVID liability in December.

“We’ve been in long talks with the (Capitol’s) second floor (the governor’s office) on that for several weeks now and those talks have gotten pretty serious, and I think we’re at a place where we’re comfortable moving forward,” Haahr said.

At least 46 members or the 163-member House are lame ducks who will not serve in the 2021 Legislature but are participating in the special session and would still be serving in December.

The Missouri Tuesday approved a tentative plan to allocate $1.27 billion in federal COVID-19 assistance that earmarks $764 million for pandemic mitigation, job training grants and school nutrition services, in a 133-4 vote.

The plan awaits adoption by the 34-member Senate, which will convene its special session Nov. 19-20.

In lobbying for alacrity in adopting a COVID-19 liability bill, proponents say time is of the essence for businesses now uncertain about potential COVID-19 liabilities, making the swift adoption of a protective measure for employers vital for the state’s economic recovery.

“The cost of this pandemic has been dire not only in the lives that have been lost, but also with the massive disruption we have seen for Missourians and Missouri businesses in all parts of the state,” House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Jefferson City, said in a letter to Parson last week. “If we are to give our state the best chance to recover from this ongoing pandemic, it’s imperative that we take on these issues sooner rather than later.”

If lawmakers cannot craft a liability protection bill during a special session, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called for them to adopt a “temporary, limited immunity from liability (That) should be available if businesses follow government guidance on public health measures.”

More than 800 Missouri employers, mostly small businesses, have signed a letter requesting lawmakers adopt COVID-19 liability protection measures as soon as possible.

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