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Jackson County legislator pulls proposal on health powers after receiving violent threats

Isaac Mesimer, who's five years old, is held by his father as he get his first dose of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
The public health ordinance that was pulled by Jackson County legislator Crystal Williams would, among other things, require people who receive a positive COVID test to report the results to the health director within one day.

Legislator Crystal Williams says she received threats after introducing an ordinance that would restore some powers to the local health department. “Those people should feel ashamed of themselves,” she said.

Citing an “extraordinary amount of threatened violence,” Jackson County legislator Crystal Williams has withdrawn her proposed ordinance to restore some powers and authority to the local health department.

“Those people should feel ashamed of themselves,” Williams wrote in an email provided to KCUR.

The ordinance was introduced Monday and slated for a hearing next week in the Jackson County Legislature’s health and environment committee, but Williams said that will no longer happen as lawmakers work through the policy details.

“Despite the dangers to our public health presented by the rash and medically ignorant actions of the attorney general, it's crucial we develop a framework my colleagues understand and are comfortable with,” Williams continued.

Williams’ ordinance would give the director of the Jackson County Health Department the power to take action against communicable diseases, such as by closing public and private schools, establishing mitigation measures like isolation and quarantining, requiring immunizations, and allowing for fines up to $1,000 for those who violate public health measures.

Williams told KCUR that the ordinance simply codified public health functions in a way similar to local governments like Kansas City.

However, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt immediately criticized the measure over social media, calling it "incredibly dangerous and unprecedented overreach," and threatened legal action if it passed.

In November, a Cole County judge ruled that many local health orders were unconstitutional. Schmitt has since filed a number of lawsuits seeking to strike down COVID-19 measures in cities and counties across the state.

During Monday’s legislature meeting, some Jackson County lawmakers voiced concern over the ordinance’s language, which some described as “heavy handed.” Legislator Tony Miller said the ordinance could be interpreted too broadly and would afford unchecked power to the health director.

The retraction of the ordinance comes as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in the metro, causing hospital beds to fill up.

The Kansas City region reported 1,115 new daily COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, according to the Mid-America Regional Council. The daily average of COVID-19 cases, as of Jan. 2, was 2,114 — a 111.5% increase from the previous week.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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