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Senate canceling session week early over coronavirus concerns

House will still meet to work on budget

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate is canceling session a week before the legislative spring break out of caution as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the country, The Missouri Times first reported.

Senators had been debating a Wayfair bill for several hours on the floor before adjourning to meet with their caucuses Wednesday evening. The legislative spring break had been scheduled to begin March 19 after adjournment. 

Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden later confirmed on social media the Senate will not be in session next week. He said the cancelation was “to ensure the safety of our members and Capitol guests from the ongoing [COVID-19] realities.”

The week following the legislative spring break is still uncertain but as for now, it will continue as scheduled, sources told The Missouri Times.

“A number of our members, staff, and their families fall into populations that are at greater risk due to the coronavirus,” Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said. “We asked legislators if there was anything so pressing that it required us to be here now, while it is unclear what kind of viral exposure we may have already had, and the answer was ‘no.’ As a result, we will be pausing nonessential legislative activity in order to protect the people who work in the Capitol and to ensure we will have a quorum when we return from break to complete the budget.”

The Missouri House is still working to complete the budget. Lawmakers will have a technical session at the start of the week but are expected to convene on Wednesday.

“The General Assembly has the constitutional duty of writing and passing a balanced budget to fund the core function of government and the House remains focused on completing this responsibility,” House Speaker Elijah Haahr said in a statement Thursday. “The legislative process for passing a budget begins in the House of Representatives and the House plans to move forward next week. The goal of both chambers is to fulfill our constitutional obligations while minimizing risk for members, staff, and visitors.”

Earlier this week, leadership from both chambers urged members of the public “who are not directly participating in the legislative business” to stay away from the Capitol and shuttered some public areas of the House. 

Gov. Mike Parson announced the first confirmed case of a Missourian who tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday. The woman, who is in her 20s, is in St. Louis County and had recently traveled to Italy. The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said Wednesday 64 other patients have been tested in Missouri but were negative. 

The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” while the disease is called “coronavirus disease 2019,” or “COVID-19.” It can cause severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned. 

There have been nearly 1,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., and almost 30 deaths, according to the CDC

As the nation grapples with what has now been deemed a pandemic, several public events have been canceled, postponed, or closed off to the public across the country — from St. Patrick’s Day parades to sporting events. 

The Wayfair bill up for debate in the Senate Wednesday, SB 648, was placed on the informal calendar shortly after 7 p.m. 

This story has been updated.

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