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Governor's executive order and Missouri lawsuit challenge federal contractor vaccine mandate

Galen Bacharier
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri's top officials are pushing back against federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements with an executive order and litigation aimed at resisting the Democratic White House on the issue of mandates.

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, issued an executive order Thursday banning state government agencies from requiring workers to comply with federal requirements if they have religious or medical exemptions, as well as prohibiting those agencies them from penalizing workers or businesses that don't comply due to exemptions.

The order is largely symbolic at the moment, as the existing mandate from the Biden administration applies to federal employees and contractors and will have little impact on most state workers. Exceptions for religion and medical conditions are already included in the federal mandate, which takes effect Nov. 22 for federal workers and Dec. 8 for contractors.

Gov. Mike Parson issued an executive order against the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors Thursday.

The White House has also indicated it will order all private sector businesses with over 100 employees to require vaccination, though the exact timeline on that mandate is not known.

"In the state of Missouri, public health decisions are left to the people to either make their own personal decisions or speak through their elected representatives in the General Assembly," Parson said. "The Biden administration's vaccine mandates undermine and deny Missourians’ right to make personal health decisions and to speak through their elected representatives."

Vaccines in Missouri:Republicans blast Biden orders, lawmakers urge special session to counter

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, said Friday he was leading a 10-state lawsuit against the Biden administration, asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to block the mandate for federal contractors. He called the federal requirement a "power grab" that "is sweeping in its scope," arguing it violates federal laws and "is an unlawful usurpation of states' police powers." 

"My office has led the nation in taking action to fight back against attempts by petty tyrants to impose their control through mask mandates," Schmitt said in a statement. "Now, we're leading the nation in fighting back against this absurd federal overreach."

Schmitt's lawsuit was co-led by Nebraska AG Doug Peterson, and joined by Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. It comes a day after Florida filed a similar lawsuit seeking to block the mandate for contractors.

In his executive order, Parson ordered all divisions of state government to "cooperate fully and timely" with Schmitt's office on any litigation. The two have been among the most vocal opponents of the Biden administration's COVID-19 response and vaccine actions.

“The governor’s executive order appears carefully crafted to do absolutely nothing — except promote the attorney general’s latest frivolous lawsuit at taxpayer expense," said House Minority Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat. "If these two put as much energy into fighting the pandemic as they do into fighting those fighting the pandemic, Missouri would be in a much stronger position.”

Missouri's governor joins several others — from Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Texas — in publicly resisting the federal mandates, which have become a divisive political issue among top elected officials.

Vaccines in Missouri:Lawmakers weigh action on mandates as protesters rally at Capitol

Republicans across the state criticized the orders when President Joe Biden first introduced them in September and several conservative lawmakers asked Parson to call a special session to ban mandates for the private sector; he declined to do so. Those lawmakers later joined with an organization opposing workplace mandates to hold a protest inside the Missouri State Capitol.

As of Thursday, 49.3 percent of Missouri's population has been completely vaccinated, according to state data; it ranks below the U.S. state average of 58.26 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at gbacharier@news-leader.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.