JEFFERSON CITY — The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that protects businesses from being held legally liable for COVID-19 exposure in most cases.
The legislation represents the latest attempt by lawmakers to create liability limits. The House previously rejected a broader proposal, raising questions about whether such a bill — one of Gov. Mike Parson’s top priorities for the session — will pass before time runs out.
The bill, which contains an emergency clause that would allow it to go into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor, is sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho. He said he hopes that the protections in the bill will help boost the state economy.
“Fear of legal liability associated with COVID-19 has placed a lot of pressure on the private sector,” Baker said.
House Bill 1358 creates the “True COVID Liability Act.” It would exempt businesses from criminal or civil liability in any action alleging exposure to a contagious disease on its premises unless they “knowingly and purposely” cause an individual to be exposed.
It also states that businesses cannot be required to quarantine employees, limit lawful activities or have their business licenses suspended for breaking COVID-19 protocols.
Rep. Barbara Phifer, D-St. Louis, expressed concern that this bill will have adverse effects on the containment of other airborne diseases, such as tuberculosis.
“We need to be really careful to make sure that we are not boxing ourselves in so that we have to come back and go through a year of excruciating legislation like we have now,” Phifer said.
This legislation will move to the Senate, where lawmakers will need to act quickly. The session ends May 14.