JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ).
Gov. Mike Parson ceremoniously signed Senate Bill 51 at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the State Capitol.
The legislation protects businesses from legal actions over COVID-19 exposure unless it can be proved that a business engaged in misconduct that caused exposure to COVID-19 or the exposure caused an injury.
Watch video of the bill signing below.
State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Buchanan), who sponsored the legislation, spoke at the bill signing. Luetkemeyer said he wants this law to protect four groups in particular: small businesses, schools, healthcare workers and religious institutions.
"One of the critical components of this bill is we offered very good protections for religious institutions to make sure that churches are able to stay open and the houses of worship are available to people who are leaders in the state," Luetkemeyer said.
Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry sent an open letter to the governor asking for this legislation to move forward with signatures from more than 800 businesses and organizations. The letter asked for a special session to be called to address this issue, which was not necessary because the bill passed the state senate during regular session.
"This temporary, limited immunity from liability should be available if businesses follow government guidance on public health measures," the letter reads. "To be clear, bad actors should not be protected."
Lake of the Ozarks West Chamber of Commerce was one of the signers. Chamber director Paul Hooper said they signed onto this letter in the interest of protecting their members.
"A lot of our members are struggling with finding employees. That’s due to many reasons, not all of them are COVID-related," Hooper said. "Someone that maybe can’t come to work may use that as an excuse to not work and file a lawsuit. So, what we’re trying to do is have some protection for our chamber businesses when that happens they’re not going to be sued or liable.”
Ken Barnes, a lawyer in St. Louis and member of Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, said this new law infringes on people's Seventh Amendment right to the courts.
"This legislation, makes it really, really difficult to prove that the loss of a loved one, for example, was the result of malicious or willfulness kind of important, and that's a really high goal," Barnes said.