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Missouri Legislature looks to return to regular session by end of month

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Legislature could be back in regular session by the end of the month. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said the legislature is “tentatively planning” to reconvene in the capital city on April 27. 

“We will continue to work toward finding the right balance between protecting the safety of [lawmakers], staff, and the public and understanding the critical nature of the work we have been elected to do for the people of Missouri,” Rowden said in a tweet Monday. “We believe both are possible!” 

Gov. Mike Parson said he’s “glad they’re coming back” when asked by The Missouri Times at his Tuesday briefing. He encouraged lawmakers to abide by safety and social distancing rules.

“I think there’s work to be done here at the state Capitol,” the Republican governor said.

But Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo called the tentative timeline to return to the Capitol “deeply troubling” in a lengthy statement Tuesday morning. He accused Republican leadership of wanting to reconvene to “pass special interest legislation that won’t help a single shuttered business, unemployed worker, sick patient, or health care hero on the frontlines of this fight.”

Rizzo said:

“Legislators in both parties are eager to return to the Capitol and continue our good work for Missouri families. The next time the legislature is in the Capitol, it should be to pass a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2021 and to pass meaningful legislation to help families regain the jobs, healthcare, and peace of mind this virus has so cruelly stolen. By taking the right precautions, the legislature can and will do this in the months ahead.

As businesses across the state look to their elected officials for guidance, the Missouri General Assembly has an obligation to lead by example and get back to work at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. The Republican proposal to gather everyone together during the worst week of the Coronavirus outbreak is the wrong plan at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons.”

Responding to the news, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade told The Missouri Times she isn’t certain it will be safe for everyone to come back on April 27. 

“Two weeks is a long time during a pandemic, and we have no way of knowing what conditions will be like two weeks from now,” Quade later said in a statement. “A final decision to resume the legislative session cannot be based on wishful speculation on what will be, only on firm knowledge of what is. Anything less puts lives unnecessarily at risk.”

Although the Missouri Capitol and state offices officially shuttered on March 24, lawmakers, reporters, and some members of the public gathered in the Statehouse last week to pass the supplemental budget. Extra precautions were in place, including temperature checks at the door and blocking off legislators’ offices from the public; many lawmakers wore masks and gloves, and the House floor remained largely empty during discussions. 

Statehouse operations began winding down in mid-March when the Senate broke from floor debate on March 11 and decided to adjourn early — ahead of an already planned weeklong break scheduled to begin on March 19. While the House continued to work through the week, the agenda centered around the supplemental budget. 

One lawmaker, state Rep. Joe Runions, has tested positive for coronavirus, the only member of the General Assembly diagnosed thus far. 

State Sen. Gina Walsh, the former minority floor leader, is self-quarantining after she said she was possibly exposed to coronavirus. 

Since early March, at least 4,600 Missourians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 33 have died.  Parson has placed Missouri under a statewide stay at home order until April 24. 

This story has been updated. It was originally published on April 13.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.