A Week of Milestones
As I think back on this week in the Missouri Senate, two remarkable milestones stand out in my mind. My greatest sense of personal accomplishment comes from seeing my PDMP legislation, Senate Bill 63, receive a “Do Pass” vote in the Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee. Still, the experience of enduring my first Senate filibuster is definitely one for the books, and something I won’t soon forget.
Senate Bill 63 is the culmination of more than eight years of hard work. During my entire time in the House of Representatives, I fought for enactment of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. Although a number of my PDMP bills passed in the House, none of my previous efforts made it across the legislative finish line. This current version includes compromise language that received wide support in 2020. With such an early start in the process this year, I have high hopes this critical legislation will finally make it to the governor’s desk.
A statewide PDMP is important for so many Missouri families. If doctors and pharmacies can see what prescriptions a patient has received, they can spot signs of addiction and help the individual escape a devastating life of substance abuse. Tracking prescriptions can also help avoid harmful drug interactions. After working on this legislation for nine years, I can honestly say this is the best PDMP bill yet. It goes further to protect personal privacy than previous versions, and is clearly targeted at combating substance abuse. Safeguards include a three-year rolling purge of data, and the information cannot be used to deny firearms purchases or other civil liberties. It’s my hope that the Senate will pass the bill quickly and the House will take it up soon.
The other big milestone for me this week was the 15-hour-long deliberations over Senate Bill 51. The Senate began discussing SB 51, a COVID-19 liability bill, early Tuesday afternoon and did not perfect the bill until 5 a.m. Wednesday. It was fascinating to see senators huddled in offices and conference rooms hammering out a compromise while other senators held the floor until the legislation was ready for a vote. I must confess, though, I’m not used to all-nighters. I wake when the sun comes up, and I am running out of steam once the sun goes down! So I’ll need to acclimate to the crazy hours, for sure! I’m thankful we came to a resolution, and feel the bill/policy is very solid and needed.
The bill approved by the Senate early Wednesday morning walks a fine line between allowing people who have truly been harmed to have their day in court and protecting small businesses, health care workers and manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits. This legislation limits COVID-19 lawsuits to cases involving “recklessness or willful misconduct.” As somebody who believes people need to accept personal responsibility, I’m OK with setting a high bar for lawsuits. I don’t believe a business that makes a good faith effort to keep employees and patrons safe should have to worry about getting sued. Our businesses have been harmed so much already. Having to defend a frivolous lawsuit could be the final nail in the coffin for a business that’s just barely hanging on.
I was especially pleased to see an amendment added to the bill to protect our churches. A good part of our overnight deliberations focused on protecting pastors and church leaders who chose to hold services during the pandemic. For many of us, neither the devil nor high water, and certainly not a virus, is going to keep us from gathering together to worship. Still, there are always individuals who are willing to sue, even if it means harming a pastor or church family. We wanted to make sure our churches and our pastors were not opening themselves up to lawsuits by having services. The amendment added to SB 51 offers that protection.
This was a hotly debated issue, and there was a lot of false information spreading around about what the bill does or does not do. (No, for example, it does not require anyone to get a vaccine.) I am highly in favor of this bill and I think it will help our churches, small businesses and health care workers. I hope the House takes it up and passes it, along with an emergency clause, so the protections included in the bill take effect right away.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.