Local Government Responses to Coronavirus: Missouri Takes ActionMarch 18, 2020
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Missouri has taken urgent action to stop its spread, both at the state and local levels. Most notably, Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency on Friday, March 13, 2020, and implored Missourians to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. On Sunday, March 15, 2020, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, along with other regional leaders, agreed to immediately implement an eight-week prohibition on events and social gatherings with more than 50 people. These officials also recommended the closure of many public, private, charter, and parochial schools until at least April 3. The decision regarding mandatory closure of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs remains under consideration in Missouri. The following summarizes some of the additional measures currently in effect (and in progress) to alleviate the collateral challenges resulting from these restrictions:
- St. Louis County and City Restaurants Required to Implement “Social Distancing”: On March 17, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson announced that all businesses that offer food or beverages for on-premises consumption must implement social distancing measures (i.e., reducing the number of employees and customers in one room). Starting by 12:01 am on March 20, 2020, all restaurants and bars must start serving customers only through delivery, carry-out, or a drive-through.
- St. Louis City Suspends Parking Tickets until at least April 6: On March 16, 2020, the City of St. Louis Treasurer’s Office announced that the city’s parking meters would be free and no tickets will be issued through April 6.
- Missouri Governor Postpones Municipal Elections to June 2: On March 18, 2020, Governor Parson signed an executive order moving municipal elections from April 7, 2020 to June 2, 2020. This postponement was requested by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. The St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners had similarly requested permission to postpone the April 7 election and add a mail-in ballot option.
- Missouri House Proposes Law for Livestreaming of State Government Meetings: Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) sponsored a bill that would permit government bodies to forgo “in-person” access to government meetings if the governor or legislator has declared a state of emergency for a pandemic. If passed, all government meetings may be livestreamed to the public “if reasonably possible.” If livestreaming is not “reasonably possible,” then the governmental body must record the meeting by video and audio, and then publicly release the recordings within 24 hours. The public can submit written comments to be read at the meeting, and the press must be allowed to attend. This bill passed the Judiciary Committee and awaits further legislative action. Presently, the Missouri Attorney General provides guidance on public access to government meetings as follows. Governmental bodies that decide to hold meetings via telephone or video chat, rather than in-person, must provide notice of the meeting on its website and at its office, in addition to information on how to access the meeting. Municipal bodies may also, in emergency situations such as a pandemic, hold roll call votes when elected officials are not physically present at the meeting. The reasons for invoking this emergency measure must be noted in the minutes.
Importantly, Missouri statutes give municipalities and cities powers to take various measures to prevent the spread of a pandemic. Pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 193.320, any person who violates a quarantine imposed by law is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
It is yet to be determined if municipalities will enact employee leave policies related to the pandemic. In 2009, in response to the outbreak of the swine flu, Maryland Heights passed an ordinance giving municipal employees 10 “pandemic sick leave” days. Maryland Heights also passed an influenza response plan at that time to ensure the continuity of municipal services in the event of a pandemic.
In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Lewis Rice has formed a COVID-19 Task Force which brings together subject matter authorities from various practice areas within the Firm who stand ready to assist our clients as they navigate these challenging and evolving issues. We will continue to monitor the myriad legal and other developments that may impact our clients.
If you have legal questions related to COVID-19, please reach out to a member of the Task Force. If you have any questions or need assistance with state or municipal entities, please contact one of the authors above or another member of the Lewis Rice Government Solutions & Administrative Law Group.