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Missouri lawmakers move to bar businesses from requiring ‘vaccine passports’

Jeanne Kuang
·3 min read

The Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval Monday evening to a measure prohibiting any government entity or business from requiring COVID-19 vaccination.

Debate over “vaccine passports” has flared in the legislature as eligibility for getting a shot widens. Missouri last week expanded eligibility to all adults and state health officials are preparing to tackle widespread hesitancy over the vaccine.

The state Senate last week passed a bill that would ban any requirements to get a vaccine for traveling or using transportation systems. Gov. Mike Parson, who has emphasized that he believes getting a vaccine is a personal choice, said he won’t require vaccination for travel in Missouri.

But the House bill, which requires one more vote before going to the Senate, is the most far-reaching proposal. It would ban the state from issuing documentation that someone has received a vaccine and prohibit private businesses from requiring vaccines of their customers or employees.

Rep. Adam Schnelting, a St. Charles Republican, tacked the provision onto an unrelated bill — addressing the procedure for confiscating animals from an owner.

Schnelting said he fears without such a measure, people “can’t enter a store without a passport, can’t buy [their] groceries, Grandma can’t get her prescriptions without a passport.”

“If we’re not careful ... we’re going to allow corporate America to become a fourth quasi-branch of government that is far more powerful than anything that we have ever seen,” he said.

The measure was approved on an 88 to 56 vote. Some Republicans, such as O’Fallon Rep. Tony Lovasco, said while they disagreed with any potential vaccine requirements, they “have to be consistent” in opposing a government restriction on the decisions of private business.

“Just because a business is open to the public does not make them public property,” Lovasco said.

Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat, said the proposal would prevent a nursing home from requiring its employees be vaccinated to keep residents safe.

Under the bill, businesses that do require vaccination would forfeit eligibility for state grants or contracts.

As of Sunday, 31% of Missourians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Parson has said the state expects about 40% of the population to decline one. Estimates vary on the share of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, but many health experts say it’s about 80% or higher.

Parson this month said he would not require vaccine passports to travel in Missouri, but said he is “fine with” requirements set by the private sector.

Nationwide, some businesses such as cruise ships, airlines and other travel companies have said they will require documentation of vaccination from their customers as they reopen.

Parson’s comments followed the addition of a vaccine passport ban to a Senate transportation bill two weeks ago. That amendment prohibits a vaccine passport for customers to access “transportation systems or services,” including public transportation, air travel, trains and taxis.

Opposed by most Senate Democrats, the measure was adopted 24 to 10.

Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat, proposed also prohibiting those services from discriminating against gay or transgender people — a version of an anti-discrimination bill that has failed to pass in Missouri for over two decades.

That failed, 16 to 15. Five Republicans joined all 10 Democrats to support it.