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New rules on remote testimony, committees move forward in the House

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Members of the Consent and House Procedures Committee approved a set of rule changes during a rare Friday hearing.

HR 7, sponsored by Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher, seeks to change several House rules, including those on remote testimony. Under the proposal, witnesses wishing to deliver testimony on bills virtually would be required to provide prior notice and would then be put on a schedule created by the chair or ranking member of the committee. Remote participation from both witnesses and legislators rose last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provision saw pushback from Democratic Rep. Tracy McCreery, who offered several amendments on technology use and COVID protocol that were voted down by the committee.

“If we are going to operate as a body as if nothing is going on between now and mid-May, we should be doing everything in our power to make sure people can come here and participate in the democratic process,” McCreery said. “By not having basic safety and health procedures in place, we are disenfranchising people that would not consider coming here at all. We’re discussing how it’s up to the chair if people are able to testify remotely; we are thwarting the democratic process.”

Members of the Consent and House Procedures Committee approved a set of rule changes during a rare Friday hearing. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/CAMERON GERBER)

Other provisions in Plocher’s recommendation included re-establishing the Committee on Emerging Issues, which was active during the 98th General Assembly and addressed bills relating to general issues as determined by the Speaker, including gun laws and tax regulations.

“This creates greater flexibility for the Speaker to send issues to certain committees,” Plocher said. “If there’s an emergent issue — such as COVID — this gives us the opportunity to do some deep dives into issues and good thorough debate, and I think this allows us to hear legislation on emerging situations.”

The resolution ultimately passed out of committee, with McCreery and fellow Democratic Reps. Bridget Walsh Moore and Kevin Windham voting against it. Windham said he voted no due to proposed changes to the Ethics Committee, including one allowing it to investigate alleged offenses occurring prior to a member’s service in the legislature. 

The upper chamber enacted its own new rules Thursday, with President Pro Tem Dave Schatz spearheading a resolution allowing members to receive bills and amendments digitally rather than waiting for a paper copy. The new rules also altered several Senate committees.