Missouri Republicans move to limit health officials' power

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican senators in Missouri on Wednesday debated ways to check health officials' power in response to their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

One proposal would ensure there are no government-imposed occupancy limits on churches and other places of worship during public health emergencies.

Another bill would take the authority to make public health rules away from county health boards and instead leave those decisions to county commissioners.

The Republican sponsors of the bills argued that some health officials went too far in limiting gatherings at churches, businesses and private homes as they sought to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Any time decisions are made about economic wellbeing, it should be done by those who answer to the voters," Republican Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin said.

Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard said he and some other local health officials already have to get approval from local governing bodies before issuing certain orders.

He urged lawmakers not to go too far and unintentionally make it difficult to adequately respond to future health emergencies, food safety issues and other disease outbreaks.

“In my 25 years experience in public health, I've rarely run into a problem that can't be adequately handled locally," Goddard said.