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A measure that would protect businesses, churches, schools and other entities from COVID-related lawsuits is quickly moving through the Missouri Senate and could be the first bill Gov. Mike Parson signs this year.

State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican attorney who authored the bill, said as the economy and schools start to reopen, his legislation is crucially important.

“This is really going to be the time where small-business owners, schools, front-line health-care providers, all the risk of them getting sued is going to be the greatest,” Luetkemeyer said. “I think it’s important that we have these protections in place for those groups as part of the reopening so that we make sure that we don’t have a second wave where businesses are getting put out of business because of lawsuits.”

Under Senate Bill 51, “No individual or entity engaged in businesses, services, activities or accommodations shall be liable in any COVID-19 exposure action.”

The exception to that rule is if the person can prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that one of the two actions occurred: the individual or entity engaged in recklessness or willful misconduct that caused an actual exposure to COVID-19; or is the actual exposure caused personal injury to the plaintiff.”

Luetkemeyer’s bill also creates a statute of limitations that caps at one year the length someone can file a COVID lawsuit.

“The purpose behind that is to make sure we don’t have these cases that are languishing out there and sitting out there for a long time,” he said. “That creates a lot of uncertainty.”

Despite it almost being nearly impossible to trace where someone got the virus, the GOP senator said the legislation prevents people from simply guessing or assuming a point of contraction.

“One of the requirements in the bill is that in order to establish a COVID liability claim, the plaintiff would have to show that there was a causal link between the exposure to the virus and a particular business or health-care provider or school where they can track that,” Luetkemeyer said. “That will be something that’s very difficult to do.”

Parson had asked the Legislature to address COVID tort reform toward the end of last year’s special session, but he ended pulling his call for that measure because lawmakers ran out of time.

Luetkemeyer said there is broad support for the bill, including the governor, Senate leadership and Missouri Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo.

“When (Vescovo) first took over as speaker, he identified this as one of his top three priorities to get done,” Luetkemeyer said. “To ensure a seamless and orderly reopening of the economy.”

The measure quickly passed out of a Senate committee last week and awaits a full vote in the Senate. Luetkemeyer expressed his optimism regarding the quick-nature of his bill.

“I think it’s likely going to be one of the first bills signed by the governor,” he said. “There was definitely a sense of urgency to get this bill done earlier in the session and then also for the governor to sign it while we’re still in session.”

Mark Zinn can be reached at mark.zinn@knpn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @KNPNZinn.