JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In his address before the General Assembly Wednesday — derailed at the eleventh hour due to COVID-19 concerns — Gov. Mike Parson promised a continued focus on workforce development and infrastructure.
Parson formally addressed the legislature for the first time in his full term as the 57th governor of Missouri, outlining his priorities going into 2021 from the Senate after the upper chamber adjourned for the day. He had been originally scheduled to present his State of the State address from the House chambers to a joint session, but those plans were curtailed just hours before the event.
“Time and time again, our administration has addressed the challenges of our communities and our state head-on rather than leaving them for another day, another administration, or another generation,” Parson said. “It is important that we continue to follow through on key investments in workforce development and infrastructure. We must also continue finding ways to strengthen public safety, improve health care, and make state government more accountable.”
House members were not given official guidance on how or where to watch the speech but a handful did trickle into the Senate’s fourth-floor gallery in seats marked to maintain social distance.
Missouri Supreme Court judges and members of the executive branch were present on the Senate floor for the speech along with Republican senators who sat at their desks. Only two Democratic senators, Barbara Washington and Angela Mosley, were present on the floor for the speech.
Here are the highlights of this year’s unofficial State of the State address.
Workforce and education
Parson touted the importance of education to Missouri during his address, announcing the consolidation of several programs and divisions into the new Office of Childhood.
“This new office will not only help streamline the operation of several state programs, but also allow us to place a bigger focus on early childhood development – a critical component to the future success of Missourians for generations to come,” he said. “In addition to early childhood, we will also continue to invest in K-12 education. It goes without saying that this past year has been especially hard on students, parents, teachers, and administrators.”
Other investments in early childhood include fully funding the foundation formula and expanding the WorkKeys curriculum to the state’s 57 career centers.
Parson called for further investments into the state’s infrastructure, including more than $6 million for projects at established ports and $25 million for the transportation cost-share program established in 2019.
“In addition to workforce development, we also continued to move forward on critical infrastructure projects,” he said. “In just over one year, over 100 of Missouri’s poorest bridges have been repaired or replaced through our ‘Focus on Bridges’ program.”
Parson’s proposed budget also included $100 million to clear a backlog of maintenance projects and a $5 million planned investment to continue expanding Missouri’s broadband infrastructure, noting the difficulty many faced last year amid the rise of virtual education and work.
Parson outlined a number of goals related to the coronavirus pandemic, including much-discussed COVID liability protections and a Wayfair tax bill to allow the state to collect tax on online commerce — but it’s the COIVD liability package he wants on his desk first.
Parson said the state was recovering from the impact of the pandemic despite economic setbacks seen last year.
“Although COVID-19 has had an overwhelming impact on the economy, Missouri has made outstanding progress in a short amount of time,” he said. “In fact, Missouri is among the top tier of states for total economic recovery with 71 percent of jobs recovered. We are among the lowest unemployment rates in the country and have again reached number two in the United States for apprenticeships.”
Parson praised the work of the Missouri Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission over the past year, from adding de-escalation techniques and implicit bias training to Missouri law enforcement’s required annual training to approving Lincoln University’s bid to house the first police academy in a historically Black college and university (HBCU).
“We must also continue to invest in public safety and building stronger communities,” he said. “If we are to make real change, we must get violent crime under control in our communities … and we cannot do this without our law enforcement officers. These brave men and women risk their lives each day to keep us safe. We must support them, respect them, and give them the tools they need to do their jobs.”
Parson also touted the passage of the $1.5 million Pretrial Witness Protection Fund last year and committed to continued support for law enforcement initiatives, including Operation Legend.
The Republican governor also advocated for health care for the next year, proposing more than $4 million to bolster telehealth for Missourians with developmental disabilities and an additional $20 million for 50 new community mental health and substance use disorder clinics, as well as six crisis stabilization centers.
“2020 highlighted the critical need for skilled health care workers, and we want to meet this need by educating and training our Missouri workforce,” he said.
Parson said his administration was committed to pushing for foster care and adoption reform — a focus of the lower chamber, which passed legislation on the subject Wednesday morning.
Parson also proposed a pay increase for state employees to bolster workplace retention and encourage other Missourians to work for the state.
“It is an honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with Missourians in the arena,” Parson said. “Those who have lifted one another up, pushed one another to be better, and have remained devoted to a cause greater than themselves in the face of critics who will never know the strength it takes to endure these challenging times.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.