Missouri Legislators Scale Back Health Powers Act

Published June 1, 2002

In wide-ranging, give-and-take floor debates, Missouri legislators have scaled back the Model Emergency Health Powers Act (MEHPA), a broad anti-terrorism bill the Senate approved in February. As adopted then, the bill would have given sweeping new emergency powers to the governor and would have blocked access to some public records, including the records of City Utilities (CU) of Springfield.

Drafted in reaction to the September 11 terrorist attack, the bill would allow the governor to declare a state of emergency if he had evidence of a biological attack or other disaster. That declaration would then allow emergency licensing of health care professionals from other states, and quarantining citizens who refuse to be immunized if required by a public health official.

Critics in Missouri and across the country assailed the legislation as an affront to civil liberties, and government watchdog groups have complained it would let local governments and municipal utilities close public records by claiming they were security-related.

Effective opposition to the bill came from Republican Senators Steelman, Cauthorn, Loudon, Kinder and Rohrbach along with Democrats Schneider and House. These senators presented arguments against what was termed “an extremely poorly constructed bill” and described as ” repugnant to the most basic principles of our fair land.” Since the bill had been “perfected” and could not be amended, all these senators could do is expose the problems of the bill.

As each flaw in the bill was pointed out in floor debate, the sponsor, Republican Senator Marvin Singleton, would acquiesce and agree to try to work with the house to amend the flaws out of his own legislation, but he would not withdraw the bill.

Singleton has taken out language that would have let utilities like City Utilities (CU) close records of value to potential competitors. CU had lobbied to draft the language to the bill, but some lawmakers protested the measure was too wide in scope.

The version heard in a House committee Wednesday would allow the closing of meetings or records related to “certain terrorism readiness issues.” But local governments or public utilities couldn’t close records related to the cost of security measures.

“It really wasn’t the intent of the public health legislation to start expanding it to municipal utilities,” Singleton said. “The legislative intent was to protect security measures.”

Singleton said some groups such as the Missouri Press Association were asked to draft an alternate version of the part related to the state’s Sunshine Law, and that he would drop the entire provision of the bill if it meant saving the legislation.

Singleton also deleted the quarantine requirement from the bill, along with a provision prohibiting pharmacists from disclosing certain personal information.

The bill would have required pharmacists to report unusual or increased prescription trends within 24 hours of noticing them. The change is intended to prevent individuals from being identified in the process, Singleton said.