We’re three weeks into the 2021 legislative session and this week’s schedule was packed full of committee hearings, with a number of high-priority bills beginning to move through the legislative process. Committee hearings give the public and those affected by legislation an opportunity to weigh in and help shape Missouri’s laws. My colleagues and I welcome the input and value the perspectives we gain during hearings.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which I chair, met this week and heard testimony on legislation to provide protection from lawsuits related to COVID-19. The governor first called for passage of COVID liability legislation during the extra session last fall, and finishing that work is a priority for this term. Senate Bill 51, which I presented during Tuesday’s hearing, addresses three significant areas where Missourians could face legal jeopardy relating to the pandemic. I believe my legislation is the most comprehensive solution to the COVID-19 liability issue, and offers protections for small businesses and frontline health care providers.
COVID-19 has been difficult for everybody, but small businesses have been hit particularly hard. As we restart Missouri’s economy, I believe businesses must feel comfortable reopening without fearing lawsuits. If a business patron contracts the virus that business shouldn’t be held responsible. As long as they’re not acting recklessly, individual businesses should not be liable for a highly infectious virus.
My legislation also shields our brave frontline health care workers from unfounded lawsuits. Our state’s medical professionals and first responders have worked long and difficult hours, putting themselves and their families at risk, rendering care during the pandemic. These people truly are heroes, and they should not worry about getting sued for doing their duty.
Finally, SB 51 creates certain liability protections for businesses that stepped forward to address shortages of personal protective equipment and other supplies. We saw apparel makers who never previously made face coverings suddenly producing masks, often donating them to frontline workers. Distilleries and breweries around the state shifted production to meet the demand for hand sanitizer. These good Samaritan businesses helped us fight the pandemic, and their good deeds should not be punished.
My hope is that we can get SB 51 passed out of committee next week and quickly move it to the Senate floor for debate. The bill has an emergency clause, which if approved, would make these protections effective the minute the governor signs the bill. I believe it’s important to get this passed as early as possible so we can bring immediate relief to our small businesses. This can’t wait any longer.
–State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer