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Missouri House passes bill expanding liabilities for employers requiring vaccinations

The Missouri House of Representatives breaks on Wednesday after the first day of the legislative session at the capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri House of Representatives, photographed here in January 2022, voted out of its chamber multiple bills on Monday, including legislation creating new liabilities for employers requiring vaccinations.

Employers requiring any vaccination for their workers would be on the hook for damages or injuries that result from the immunization under a bill the Missouri House of Representatives passed on Monday.

Under the legislation, which members voted 84-58 to advance to the Senate, any employer, including private companies and organizations, that requires any immunizations would be liable if their employees sustained injuries or damages related to getting the shot.

“If the vaccines are 100% sound, then there's nothing to worry about. There's going to be no court battles,” bill sponsor Mitch Boggs, R-LaRussell, said.

Both Republicans and Democrats spoke against the legislation on the House floor.

Rep. Barbara Phifer, D-St. Louis, referenced how the Missouri Chamber of Commerce is opposed to this bill.

“It looks like it's governmental overreach from their point of view and an invitation for all kinds of litigation and will make it very expensive for businesses,” Phifer said.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, also spoke on how the measure is bad for the state’s business climate.

“In my view, it certainly doesn't say Missouri is open for business. It says that the legislature is now contriving new ways for you to be sued over behavior that you have very little control,” Christofanelli said.

The bill does not prohibit employers from obtaining insurance in order to protect themselves and employees from a liability that should arise.

911 dispatchers as emergency responders

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, members of the House passed legislation that elevates the status of 911 dispatchers to those of emergency responders in the state.

The legislation, which members passed on Monday by a vote of 148-0, places dispatchers into the same category as police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. The designation gives them greater benefits and support including PTSD treatment.

Rep. Shane Roden, R-Cedar Hill, said he’s listened to calls that dispatchers have taken and how dispatchers truly care about the people on the other end of the line.

“And it’s somebody that’s been overlooked for a very long time and I think it’s time that we bring them up to the 21st century with addressing them for what they truly are and they’re first responders as well,” Roden said.

Some new language that allowed first responders to be exempt from required vaccinations based on religious beliefs or medical reasons was removed, clearing the way for greater support from House Democrats.

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said it was important to give dispatchers their due.

“Dispatchers are kind of treated as if they are nothing and they take a lot of the trauma home with them. They have to sit there and go through traumatic experiences day in and day out,” Bosley said.

Ballot dropbox ban

On a less bipartisan vote, the House also passed legislation Monday that will prohibit the use of ballot dropboxes during elections in Missouri.

Representatives voted 98-48 to pass the bill, which defines ballot boxes as “unattended depositories for election ballots,” not including mailboxes owned by the United States Postal Service.

Democratic Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, spoke against the bill. He said the state shouldn’t tell counties how to run their elections

“If certain counties want to have drop boxes and the areas because it works for them. We shouldn't be taking away local control for what certain counties and cities want to do when it comes to their elections,” Aldridge said.

The bill also imposes a labeling requirement for both political subdivision and special district ballot measures, as well as requiring the phasing out of certain electronic touchscreen vote counting machines.

Some exceptions concerning the machines exist under the bill as election authorities may continue operating them for disabled voters who wish to use them. Otherwise, beginning in 2023, the state will count paper ballots hand-marked by a voter as the official ballots.

All three bills now head to the Senate, with three weeks remaining for them to become law.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.