Missouri bill would limit public meeting access in outbreaks

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers on Monday advanced a bill allowing state and local governments to restrict access to public meetings during contagious illness outbreaks such as COVID-19.

A House committee voted 12-2 for the legislation, which is aimed at reducing the spread of contagious viruses such as the new coronavirus through large public gatherings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed across the country for the next eight weeks. The vast majority of people recover from the coronavirus in a matter of weeks.

If enacted, the Missouri measure would require public agencies to livestream or record meetings and accept written public comments in advance.

Reporters could still access those meetings.

The legislation comes as the state Senate left a week early for its spring break over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The state House is still meeting but in a limited capacity.

Legislative leaders last week asked members of the public who are not directly involved in the legislative process, such as school groups, to avoid the Capitol.

The public can listen to House and Senate proceedings online. The House also livestreams many committee hearings.

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