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County Council Fails To Override Page Vetoes On Emergency Orders

St. Louis County Health Department co-director Spring Schmidt (left) and county executive Sam Page address reporters on Sunday, March 8, 2020, regarding Missouri's presumed first case of the new coronavirus.
File Photo / Bill Greenblatt
County Executive Sam Page, shown in March with St. Louis County Health Department co-director Spring Schmidt, vetoed two bills that would have limited his ability to issue public health orders and declare states of emergency.

Updated Oct. 27 with override vote

The St. Louis County Council has rejected an effort to place limits on the length of states of emergency and public health orders without its approval.

County Executive Sam Page vetoed the legislation Monday, and supporters were not able to muster the five votes Tuesday needed for an override. The bills would have required a two-thirds majority council vote to extend any states of emergency or public health order such as a mask mandate beyond 15 days.

Democratic Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy brought up an override motion over the objections of her Republican colleague Tim Fitch, who had urged her to wait until Ernie Trakas, a Republican, could be present. However, Trakas’ presence at the meeting would not have changed the result.

Fitch pledged to continue to push for oversight of Page.

“We will be working on alternative bills,” Fitch said. “And I’m looking at the county executive right now asking you for input, something that you would accept to give this council some oversight of your orders.”

Original story from Oct. 26

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has fulfilled a promise to veto two pieces of legislation he says would have severely hurt his ability to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“With growing numbers across the state, and across the county, St. Louis County cannot give up in its fight against COVID-19,” Page said Monday at his regular press briefing. “But giving up is exactly what Bills 222 and 223 are asking us to do.”

Under the legislation, Page or any future county executive would still have been able to issue states of emergency or public health orders like the mask mandate currently in place. But the council would have had to approve any extensions beyond 15 days by a two-thirds majority, or five votes.

Democrat Rita Heard Days broke with Page and her Democratic colleagues last week to approve the legislation by a 4-3 vote at the end of a meeting that lasted nearly a week as members listened to more than 2,000 public comments. But another member of the Democratic majority would have to defect in order to override the veto, which appears unlikely.

Supporters of the legislation argued the measures were simply about preserving the checks and balances of government.

“Remember the medical profession coined the term ‘get a second opinion.’ These bills give the council the ability to give many opinions,” Republican County Councilman Tim Fitch said last week. “Giving the council oversight does not mean we’ll overrule the county executive or his politically appointed health director. What it does mean is they will have to explain their decisions and orders to the elected members of this body.”

Fitch was one of the sponsors of the vetoed legislation.

The council is unlikely to attempt an override this week, but there is no deadline by which it has to act. That means supporters could wait until Shalonda Webb, who defeated Rochelle Walton Gray in the Democratic primary for the 4th District in August, is sworn in in January.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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