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Missouri GOP Senators Want Special Session To Combat Private-Sector Vaccine Mandates

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson enters the Senate Chambers before delivering his State of the State address on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Daniel Shular
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson enters the Senate chambers before delivering his State of the State address in January at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

Updated 12:45 p.m. on Thursday with Missouri Chamber of Commerce statement

A group of Republican state senators wants Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to prevent private-sector companies from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

But that’s not likely to happen, based off a statement from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and due to Parson’s comments to St. Louis Public Radio last week.

Since the delta variant began to spread throughout the state, some businesses have announced that they will require employees, or customers, to show proof of vaccination. That’s become an especially popular option at restaurants, including some in the St. Louis region.

But a letter signed by six senators, dated Monday, asks Parson to call a special session to “protect Missouri workers from vaccine mandates, whether they be from the public or the private sector.”

“Over the past several weeks Missouri employers have signaled their intention to require employees and staff to have received the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. In other words — get the shot or lose your job,” the letter states. “This is concerning to a wide cross-section of Missourians.”

The letter goes on to say, “it’s not our job to force it nor it the job of businesses and employers to force the vaccine. Our job is to safeguard the rights and liberties of the people we represent.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville; Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring; Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg; Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove; Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis; and Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston.

In a recent interview, Parson said the state would not issue any vaccine mandates. He said that vaccine mandates could have unintended consequences, including prompting health care workers who don’t want to get the shot to quit.

But he also said he wasn’t in favor of the state stopping private businesses from making their own decisions about COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

“Do you require somebody in private business, that owns their own business, to tell them whether they can do a mandated vaccine or not? So far we’re not going to go down that road,” Parson said. “If that business decides they want to do that, we’re going to allow them to do that in this state until something changes to show us differently.”

Parson also said in June that he wasn’t enthusiastic about calling special sessions on anything except the renewal of a tax to help fund Medicaid and congressional redistricting. The special session on what’s known as the federal reimbursement allowance for Medicaid wrapped up earlier this summer. Parson has not yet called the congressional redistricting special session.

On Thursday, Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan slammed the call for a special session. He said his organization, which is influential among Republican lawmakers, "stands against attempts to place reckless new restrictions on the state’s business community."

"Employers have long had the ability to mandate vaccinations and the Missouri Chamber believes all employers should continue to have this right when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine," Mehan said. "An employer’s ability to mandate vaccination is supported by state law, federal law and the courts. While there are encouraging signs that vaccination is on the rise in Missouri, we need this trend to continue as we work to contain the Delta-variant outbreak. We don’t need new roadblocks to recovery."

The Missouri Chamber has been encouraging businesses to vaccinate their employees — and has featured U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt in radio ads to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Neither St. Louis nor St. Louis County is forcing businesses to require vaccines, nor are they likely able to based on a state law barring local governments from requiring vaccine paperwork ”in order for the individual to access transportation systems or services or any other public accommodations.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.