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New House member bus tour postponed; orientation to continue in Capitol

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — New House members will continue with orientation in the state Capitol this week, but the two-week statewide bus tour has been postponed. 

Speaker Designee Rob Vescovo announced the delaying of the bus tour Monday afternoon after the upper chamber postponed the extraordinary legislative session due to at least one senator and one staffer testing positive for COVID-19. It’s unclear if any House members have recently tested positive for COVID-19

State Rep. Rob Vescovo

State Rep. Hannah Kelly, who chairs the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, also canceled a hearing scheduled for Thursday. The hearing will be rescheduled, she said. 

“Out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to protect the health and wellbeing of members, staff, and the general public, we have decided to postpone the two-week statewide bus tour for newly-elected House members,” Vescovo said. “The tour is an incredibly important learning opportunity that gives new members firsthand experiences with many of the programs and facilities around the state that are impacted by their decisions in Jefferson City.”

The three-day new member orientation, however, will still convene in the Capitol this week, Vescovo said, noting the event will follow CDC guidelines, practice social distancing, and utilize screenings, among other precautionary measures. 

Much of the orientation’s training will be held in the House chamber, which is larger than the hearing rooms, according to Dana Miller, chief clerk for the House.

In addition:

  • Other meetings will be held in breakout sessions in hearing rooms.
  • Meals will be held in the third-floor rotunda, and eating will not be allowed during sessions or in the hearing rooms.
  • Some portions of orientation will have assigned seats.
  • The orientation will be streamed for members who wish to participate from a distance.

The House had planned two buses for new members: one with a mask requirement and another for those who wished to forgo masks. 

Vescovo said the House plans to reschedule the bus tour possibly in the summer. 

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, who was recently elected the freshman Democratic Caucus chairman, applauded the decision to postpone the tour. He said he had spoken to every incoming Democratic freshmen, and they were most likely not going to attend out of an abundance of caution. 

“It could put not just ourselves, but our families and other people we come in contact with on the tour at risk,” Aldridge told The Missouri Times. “It’s responsible of leadership to decide to postpone it but not cancel it completely. It’s better to be safe and smart, and I appreciate Speaker Vescovo’s decision.” 

The full House met last week to approve a $1.2 million supplemental budget package allocating federal coronavirus relief money. The measure was sent to the Senate, and Gov. Mike Parson expanded the scope of the special session to include COVID liability protections for certain health care workers, manufacturers, and businesses. 

But Republican Senate leadership announced the extraordinary session would be postponed until after Thanksgiving Monday morning. At least one senator and one staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said. 

When he expanded the extraordinary session call, Parson said he hoped lawmakers could tackle the issue by the week after Thanksgiving. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the postponement of the session. 

The Missouri Legislature shuttered in March during the regular session as COVID-19 cases climbed. 

As of Monday, more than 25,000 Missourians have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past seven days. According to Missouri’s method, that’s a positivity rate of 44 percent. More than 2,500 people are hospitalized including 559 in the ICU and 275 on ventilators. 

In Cole County, more than 5,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 overall with 36 deaths. 

This story has been updated.