COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri hospitals and nursing homes would have to allow visitors, even during a pandemic, under a bill advanced Wednesday in the Republican-led state House.

Lawmakers gave the measure initial approval in a voice vote, meaning it needs another vote to move to the GOP-led Senate.

Legislators proposed the bill in response to strict visitor limits in hospitals and nursing homes when COVID-19 first hit. Republican House members said visitor restrictions meant some patients died without friends or family by their side.

Moberly Republican Rep. Ed Lewis said patients need an “advocate” when they’re at their most vulnerable.

“That person should be able to have someone that can speak for them and make sure that they get the quality health care that they ought to have,” Lewis said.

Under the bill, a patient’s spouse, parent or guardian plus another person would be allowed to visit at any timel.

Hospitals and nursing homes could deny a visitor for health or safety reasons, such as signs that the visitor has COVID-19 or another contagious illness.

The visitation rights wouldn’t apply to mental health facilities or prisons.

Democrats criticized the proposal as short-sighted, arguing that it could limit hospital and nursing homes’ efforts to protect vulnerable patients from coronavirus or other future pandemics.

“Some people believe that hospital and long-term care facilities may have gone too far when we went into a state of emergency for the COVID pandemic,” Kansas City Democratic Rep. Ashley Aune said. “Those opinions are valid, especially folks who lost loved ones and weren’t able to be with them.”

But Aune said proponents have not considered “the unintended consequences of what could happen in the next pandemic” and the possibility that the law will hamper efforts to contain future infectious disease outbreaks.

The bill also would ensure that patients who refuse to get vaccinated could still get organ transplants. A similar proposal passed the House last month and is pending in the Senate.