ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — As bars and restaurants sit empty in St. Louis County, a state senator is challenging County Executive Sam Page's authority to impose restrictions and other COVID-19-related orders.
State Senator Andrew Koenig — who represents the 15th district, which includes a large portion of central, southwest and west St. Louis County — said he will file legislation Tuesday to limit Page's powers.
"We're seeing government trample over our rights here in St. Louis County," said Koenig.
The Republican isn't just echoing the complaints of some people about COVID-19 orders in the county, he's trying to reverse them.
From restrictions on restaurants to limits on the size of groups that can gather, Koenig wants the state to pass a law that determines how counties respond to health emergencies.
"The county council, they meet every week. If they thought a shutdown was something that needed to happen, we need to have public hearings on those and it needs to be passed through a legislative body," said Koenig.
Page has argued the county charter gives him and the county health department emergency powers to impose restrictions. Restaurant owners dispute that authority and already are suing him and the county over the shutdown of indoor dining.
A judge denied the restaurant owners' request for immediate action and that suit continues.
While he's not sharing many specifics, Koenig said his legislation would settle the issue by preventing Page from acting on his own.
"There was hundreds, if not thousands of people at West County Mall on Friday. And you're telling me that's safer than socially distancing at a restaurant?" asked Koenig. "I would say probably not. So they don't seem to be very consistent."
The county has ordered businesses to operate at 25% capacity and require customers to wear face masks.
The county executive said he can't comment specifically on legislation he hasn't seen, but said Monday, "This legislation does provide the opportunity to discuss these difficult decisions around public health orders."
"But what I've seen in St. Louis County and even across the country is that the vast majority of our residents understand the difficult sacrifices we are making, including restrictions on restaurants and bars for indoor dining and recognizing that these are difficult but necessary decisions," said Page in his near-daily news conference.
The county council has voted to limit Page's power, but did not have the votes to override his veto and has failed to pass other attempts to limit his authority during this pandemic.
Koenig wants Governor Mike Parson to expedite his bill by including it in a special session Tuesday.
But would supporting a bill aimed at St. Louis County require the governor to flip his position on how COVID-19 mandates should be made?
"You've got to give the local areas the flexibility to know what's best for their communities," Parson said about restrictions this past summer and several other times since.
Monday, his spokesperson Kelli Jones would only say, "Governor Parson expects the legislature to address this issue in January," which means he likely won't add it to a special session and any bill lawmakers pass may not take effect for months.