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Missouri House OKs hospital visitors on final day

May 13, 2022 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s GOP-led House spent its last day of the session Friday passing language protecting patient visitor access at hospitals after senators hindered work by leaving a day early.

House lawmakers had little left available to do after the Republican-led Senate on Thursday approved new congressional districts then adjourned for the session, cutting off work on all other bills.

“This is a tough place and a tough process,” Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said, adding that he expected nothing to get done Friday if the Senate stayed in session longer because of lingering frustration over redistricting.

Democrats called the GOP-led Legislature’s light action a win.

“Since their policy agenda consists largely of dismantling democracy, banning ideas that frighten them and bullying vulnerable children, Republicans’ failure to function actually was huge victory for the people of Missouri,” House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement.

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On Friday, House lawmakers worked on less-controversial bills with bipartisan support.

House members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the regulations on hospital, nursing home, hospice and other long-term care patients. The measure was motivated by visitor bans and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who hasn’t yet weighed in on the proposal, the bill will guarantee hospital and nursing home patients can have at least two designated visitors.

During states of emergency, patients can designate an essential caregiver who could continue to visit them in person.

The legislation still allows hospitals and nursing homes to put rules and restrictions on visitors, including for patients with transmissible infections such as coronavirus.

Hospitals and nursing homes could ban visitors if the patient’s health is at risk or if it’s required under federal law. Facilities could get permission from the state health department to enact weeklong visitor bans during pandemics or other emergencies.

House members also gave final approval to an eminent-domain bill on Friday, which is also included in other measures headed to the governor’s desk.

Primarily Republican lawmakers have been working for years to block the use of eminent domain for the Grain Belt Express, a large wind-energy power line cutting through Missouri.

Lawmakers this year pared-down the proposal to exempt the Grain Belt Express and only apply to projects moving forward.

The measure requires farm owners to be paid at least 150% of market value if their properties are taken through eminent domain.

“Without this bill, landowner rights would continue to be trampled,” Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, said in a statement. “The power grid has largely been built on the backs of farm and ranch families, whether they wanted to sell their land or not.”

House Republicans on Thursday succeeded in passing a long-standing party priority: once again requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. The measure, which allows voters to cast a provisional ballot if they don’t bring proper ID to vote, passed with a Democratic-backed amendment permitting two weeks of in-person, no-excuse early voting.

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Lawmakers passed a photo ID requirement in 2016. But a key provision requiring voters who lacked a photo ID to make a sworn statement in order to cast a regular, non-provisional ballot was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2020.

The current legislation requires photo identification but does not include the affidavit language that Supreme Court judges found objectionable.

A spokeswoman for Parson said the bill has not been reviewed by the governor’s office yet.

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Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.