Last day of the Missouri Legislature’s 2021 regular session

Missouri Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo presides over the House floor on Friday, May 14, 2021, on the final day of the current legislative session at the capitol building in Jefferson City. Photo by Christian Gooden, Content Exchange

JEFFERSON CITY — The leader of the Missouri House blasted President Joe Biden Tuesday, vowing to use his power to fight against the president’s vaccine plan.

In a letter echoing ongoing Republican outcry over the president’s move to impose vaccine rules on companies with more than 100 employees, House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, argued that the mandate to be overseen by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is unconstitutional.

“Know that my colleagues and I in the state legislature will fight voraciously to defend the rights of our citizens, and now more than ever we are compelled to serve as a shield against the intrusive hand of the federal government,” Vescovo wrote in the letter, which was signed by other members of the Republican caucus.

Although Missouri’s rate for full vaccinations is still under 50%, Republicans have pushed back against Biden’s plan, which is designed to help bring the pandemic under control. More than 11,000 Missourians have died of complications related to COVID-19 since the advent of the respiratory virus in early 2020.

Along with the letter, Vescovo and his fellow GOP leaders have scheduled a hearing Wednesday of the House Judiciary Committee to review the potential effects of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Chief among their concerns are that nurses and other health care workers will walk off the job if their employers require vaccines, putting even more pressure on overwhelmed hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Among those scheduled to testify are representatives of nursing homes and business groups, that have also raised questions about the strategy.

Gov. Mike Parson has brushed off calls for him to schedule a special session, saying the mandate should be debated in a courtroom.

In the letter, Vescovo said the U.S. Supreme Court earlier rejected a moratorium on pandemic-related evictions on the basis that it intrudes on the domain of state law.

“Just as this relationship is the domain of states, so are public health matters. Congress has not delegated public health matters to any federal agency, let alone OSHA,” Vescovo wrote.

But while details about the rules are not known, the president appears to be on firm legal ground to issue the directive in the name of protecting employee safety, according to several experts interviewed by The Associated Press.

Courts have upheld vaccination requirements as a condition of employment, both before the pandemic and since the outbreak.

Given the risks of catching the coronavirus while at work, the emergency rule being drafted could be on stronger footing, legal experts said.

Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181

@KurtEricksonPD on Twitter

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