What are “Preemption Bills”?

There is a lot of information swirling around about “preemption bills”. To start, what are they? Preemption bills are pieces of legislation that could limit the ability of local agencies to make public health rulings.

This blog post aims to give you background information on preemption bills and answer some basic questions about the legislation.

What does the St. Louis Regional Health Commission (RHC) think about these bills?

The RHC opposes the outlined preemption bills for the following reasons:

  1. In a state of emergency, health boards should have the authority to act urgently on science and public health best practices.
  2. While the RHC advocates for informed-choice, during a state of emergency of infectious disease, rulings that limit gatherings are necessary to control disease and save lives.
  3. Furthermore, local rulings have been critical in passing important non-COVID-related laws that go beyond state legislation, such as indoor smoke-free laws. Limiting local public health governance could hinder the process of passing future local orders that improve the health of Missourians.

What would these preemption bills specifically do?

Outlined below are summaries of four distinct bills, which would all limit local authority to make public health orders.  These bills might change, so be sure to visit our website’s policy tracker for the most updated information.

SCS SBs 12, 20, 21, 31, 56, 67 & 68 – Onder

This bill would make the following changes, which would limit state and local authority to act in a state of emergency: 

  1. The State, State agencies, local agencies, and individuals could not create or act on rules that limit the practice of religion during a state of emergency. 
  2. Public health orders that limit the operation of businesses, churches, schools, or other gathering places would need approval by the governing body of the political subdivision issuing the order.
    • The order must be passed by a two-thirds vote within 15 days of implementation. During those 15 days, the order could go into effect.
    • These public health orders would be limited to 15 days total in a 30-day period (unless authorized under certain conditions by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) or the General Assembly)
    • Political subdivisions could not limit the number of people gathering on private residential property during a state of emergency related to disease.
  3. Beginning January 1, 2021, taxpayers who live in a city or county that limits taxpayers’ ability to use their own property would receive a tax credit.
  4. A health board could not require people within the same household to self-isolate from one another.
  5. State and local agencies could not create public health orders that limit parental rights, which include decisions about a child’s “care and custody, upbringing, education, religious instruction, place of habitation, and physical and mental health care.”
  6. Hospitals could not restrict visitors (in agreement with the hospital’s regular visitation practices) in the following cases: (1) one visitor if requested by a pregnant woman or new mother, (2) one member for religious duties, or (3) the child’s legal parent or guardian.
  7. All candidates for county health board positions would have to run for election, even if the number of candidates is not more than the number of open positions.

HCS HB 75 – Murphy

  1. This bill would give time-limited authority for political agencies to close businesses, churches, schools, or other public gatherings for reasons of public health or safety.
  2. A public official could order closure for up to 15 days, then for another 15 days with approval of the government agency’s legislative body.
  3. The closure could be extended an additional 10 days (up to three times) with a 2/3’s vote of the agency’s legislative body.
  4. After three extensions (of 10 days each), any additional 10-day extension would need unanimous approval by the agency’s legislative body.

HB 602 – Grier

  1. This bill would restrict all emergency orders to be “narrowly tailored” (serve a specific safety purpose) and limited in length.
  2. State courts could challenge the legality of the orders.
  3. Only the Governor could make emergency orders “that infringe on constitutional rights” (limit travel, work, gatherings, religion, property rights, and other rights).
  4. All orders would be limited to 7 days, unless approved by the general assembly. 
  5. The orders would end after 30 days, unless approved by a joint resolution. The general assembly would have the power to approve or end the emergency orders.

HCS HBs 288, 444, & 392 – Henderson

  1. Beginning January 1, 2021, taxpayers who live in a city or county that limits taxpayers’ ability to use their own property would receive a tax credit.
  2. Any emergency orders by county health center boards (includes health departments) would need approval from the elected governing body. The governing body would review the orders “as soon as practicable.”
  3. Before adopting the orders, the governing body would have 30 days to change or reject the orders.
  4. When it is not a state of emergency, county health boards would need to hold a public comment period of 30 days or hearing (without opposition).

What organizations support and oppose these bills, and what are people saying about the legislation?

Organizations who have taken a stance on one or more of the above preemption bills:

  • Organizations in opposition: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Boone County, Missouri Association of Counties, Missouri Association of Local Public Health Agencies, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Missouri Hospital Association, Missouri Municipal League, Missouri State Medical Association, Sierra Club Missouri Chapter, Springfield-Greene County Health Department
  • Organizations in support: Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce, Concerned Women of America for Missouri, Missouri Grocers Association, Missouri Retailers Association, Missouri Tire Industry Association, Progress 64 West, Randolph County Commission, Restaurant Association (+ several restaurant owners), and Side Pockets of Blue Springs

Reasons given for opposition:

  • Restricting a county health board’s authority to make public health orders during a state of emergency would limit its ability to control disease and save lives.
  • Many communities in Missouri have worked with their local officials to adopt life-saving measures that go beyond state laws. For example, local governments were the first to pass indoor smoke-free laws, which prevent chronic diseases. Limiting the process for creating local public health orders could have long-lasting negative effects on the health of Missourians – far beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Reasons given for support:

  • The state serves as the check-and-balance to local authority.
  • Local and state agencies do not have the right to pass laws that restrict constitutional rights and individual choice. For example, the right to practice religion freely should not be restricted, even during a declared emergency related to infectious disease. 

What can you do to learn more and stay involved?

Sign up for our advocacy alerts to get updates and suggested actions about these bills.

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