The Week of Feb. 1, 2021
On the Floor
Black History Month:
In celebration of Black History Month, Black senators will be taking some time each day on the Senate floor to speak about the contributions and achievements of the Black community. For instance, on Feb. 2, I spoke about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the impact he has had on our country.
The issue of COVID liability hit the Senate floor this week, and along with it came the first filibuster of the 2021 legislative session. Senate Bill 51 prevents businesses and other establishments from being sued if someone contracts COVID-19 on their premises, unless the business acted recklessly or engaged in willful misconduct. Similarly, health care providers are also shielded from COVID-19 related lawsuits by the same “recklessness and willful misconduct” standard. The bill also protects certain manufacturers who created products in response to the pandemic that they would not normally make from product liability actions. Senate Bill 51 also puts in place a two-year time limit for bringing product liability or exposure cases to court, and COVID-19 medical malpractice suits would have to be filed within one year of the alleged incident.
Lawmakers debated the legislation for 15 hours before the Senate’s version was finalized early in the morning on Feb. 3. I, as well as several of my colleagues, have concerns about this bill and the potential for unintended consequences. While I can understand the desire to protect our hardworking health care workers and small businesses doing the best they can during these difficult times, I am concerned that this bill will end up giving a pass to bad actors and make it harder for Missourians to have their day in court.
Bills and Committees
A police reform bill has been combined with a bill removing residency requirements for certain police officers.
When it was initially proposed, Senate Bill 60 banned the use of police chokeholds, largely prohibited no-knock warrants, made sexual interactions between law enforcement officers and those in custody a Class E felony and improved background checks for police, among other items. While I am supportive of the police reforms contained within SB 60, it has now been combined with Senate Bill 53, which removes residency requirements for Kansas City police officers. Many of the reforms originally contained within SB 60 have also been removed from the combined bill, leaving behind only the provisions regarding chokeholds and sexual misconduct.
I voted against SB 53 in committee, believing a police reform bill should not be paired with one that removes residency requirements. As we strive to improve accountability measures and restore community trust, I believe we should not be removing an important aspect of community policing in one of our major metropolitan areas.
The Senate’s Rules Committee recently approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 2. This resolution calls on the Missouri Department of Revenue to refund sales and use tax paid by certain Missouri businesses as the result of audits the department conducted between 2005 and 2015. The resolution now heads to the Senate floor.
The Senate’s Appropriations Committee heard two bills this week that would legalize sports betting in Missouri. Senate Bill 217 and Senate Bill 256 both legalize sports wagering, but offer different paths for the state to expand into a new realm of gambling. The committee also heard House Bill 16, a $324 million supplemental appropriations bill to provide rental and housing assistance.
The committee has also begun hearing from state departments on their funding requests for the upcoming fiscal year. So far, the committee has heard from the Office of Administration and the Department of Corrections.
As of Feb. 4, 2021, the Missouri COVID-19 Dashboard reports an average of 1,026 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past week.
As of Feb. 3, the City of St. Louis Health Department has reported a total of 19,162 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the City of St. Louis.
State of the Judiciary:
The chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court gave the annual State of the Judiciary Address this week, with some changes from previous years. The address usually occurs in the House chamber in front of members of the General Assembly. Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, this year’s address occurred virtually, with the chief justice recording his speech rather than delivering it in person. The full State of the Judiciary address can be viewed by visiting Missouri’s Courts website.