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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt files lawsuit over St. Louis County's latest mask mandate

Schmitt's latest lawsuit argues that the mask mandate is a "prohibited order" due to a 2021 law that limits local leaders' ability to enact health orders.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a lawsuit over St. Louis County's latest mask mandate.  In a release sent out Wednesday, Schmitt called the order "illegal."

The mandate was passed by the St. Louis County Council Tuesday night in a 4-3 vote along party lines. The order went into effect Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. It requires all people over the age of 5 to wear a mask "while in indoor and enclosed public buildings and spaces and public transportation" in St. Louis County. The mandate does not apply to people who are eating or drinking or people alone in separate rooms or offices of public places.

RELATED: New mask mandate now in effect in St. Louis County

Schmitt's latest lawsuit argues "under the new state law governing the authority of local political subdivisions to issue health orders, the January 5 mask mandate is a prohibited order."

House Bill 271, which Governor Mike Parson signed into law in June of 2021, limits local leaders' ability to enact health orders related to the pandemic. 

The bill states:

"A political subdivision shall not issue a public health order of general applicability during a time other than a state of emergency that directly or indirectly closes an entire classification of businesses, churches, schools, or other places of gathering or assembly for a period of time longer than 21 days in a 180-day period. Such orders may be extended more than once upon a two-thirds vote of the political subdivision's governing body."

During the County Council meeting Tuesday night, there was discussion regarding how many votes were required to enact a mask mandate, with Councilman Tim Fitch saying it would need a two-thirds vote due to the new law. St. Louis County Counselor Beth Orwick said it was her understanding that a simple majority of four votes was all that was needed to enact a new mask mandate.

The answer will now be decided in court.

This is not the first time Schmitt has gone after St. Louis County mask mandates. This is the third time Schmitt has moved to remove a mask order. The previous two were tied up in court until St. Louis County ended its mask order in early December after a separate ruling from Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green that ordered local health orders are illegal and should be lifted.

The order lifted by Green's ruling was not approved by the County Council.

Schmitt also said the mandate does not apply to schools because the Missouri Constitution says county orders that apply "throughout the entire county" do not apply to school districts, which have their own legislative power. Many area school districts have decided to require masking or opt for virtual learning amid the omicron surge.

RELATED: List: St. Louis area schools changing policies due to COVID surge

“The council’s approval of the mask mandate will result in less confusion, more compliance and keep our economy going and our schools open,” said St. Louis Co. Executive Sam Page. “Masks aren’t restrictions. They are the path to more freedom to move about, stay healthy and look with optimism to the future.”

As it stands the mask mandate is set to run indefinitely unless it is amended or rescinded by the county council.

Read the full lawsuit below or by clicking here: