New proposed legislation, council resolutions follow St. Louis County ban on indoor dining

Update: St. Louis County released a statement regarding the lawsuit that included the following:
"The Circuit Court in Clayton ruled for the County, leaving the protocols in place. [On Friday, Dec. 11,] the Missouri Court of Appeals agreed and allowed the County to continue enforcing its indoor dining protocols moving forward."

State and local legislators have emerged as key allies to a group of St. Louis County restaurant owners who have brought suit against St. Louis County executive Sam Page. The lawsuit was filled in response to Page’s Nov. 17 executive order banning indoor dining at restaurants in the county for four weeks. 

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, the St. Louis County council passed a binding resolution that aims to limit the county executive’s power. County councilman Mark Harder explained that the resolution was meant to challenge Page’s authority to limit or shutdown businesses. “[The resolution] restates the power we should have and have had from the beginning” to make such decisions, Harder said. 

Harder made clear that the resolution was also intended to expedite the restaurants’ suit against Page. “For restaurants, I believe that by doing this, it will bring their case quicker to trial or for a temporary restraining order, now that there is an official conflict of power between the two branches of government,” Harder said.

A statement issued by Doug Moore, chief communications officer for the office of the county executive, disputed Harder’s account of the resolution’s significance, claiming that it is “not legally effective.” “[The resolution] was a symbolic vote that expressed the Council’s opinion about public health restrictions, but the resolution did not have the force of law,” the statement stated. “St. Louis County will continue to follow the County Charter, as well as the state statutes and regulations that empower the Public Health director to issue the orders necessary to protect people from Covid-19.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, state Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-MO District 15) announced a proposed bill that, in part, would limit the county executive’s power as it relates to shutting down restaurants by mandating such orders approval be approved by the General Assembly. If passed, the bill would also provide property tax relief to restaurants if they are forced to close. 

Benjamin Brown, whose Chesterfield restaurant Satchmo’s Bar and Grill served as the backdrop to Koenig’s press conference announcing the proposed bill, explained, “The property tax won't affect restaurants as much; it’s more of a deterrent for the county, and will ensure that they [limit our business operations] for absolute emergencies that serves the public’s interest.” 

Brown’s establishment is one of 40 restaurants that, along with the Missouri Restaurant Association, are suing St. Louis County over the indoor dining ban. Several of these restaurants, have continued to operate despite the order. As a result, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health issued forced closure orders to four restaurants, including Satchmo’s. Other restaurants closed by the Department of Public Health include Bartolino’s South, Final Destination and OT’s Bar. A statement by the Department of Public Health also mentioned a fifth establishment, Acapulco Lounge, “will be given notice of suspension if it continues to offer indoor dining.” (Following the initial closure order, Bartolino’s South has since reopened for carryout service only.)

The DPH statement detailed the process that preceded the closure orders. “Each establishment had been given three written warnings prior to today’s action. Four of the five establishments received notification that their permits to operate were suspended,” it said. “Each establishment has the right to ask for a hearing before the suspension becomes final,” the statement added.