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Senate passes COVID-related supplemental budget amid local control talks  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate finished its side of the extraordinary session Wednesday, passing the $1.2 billion supplemental budget to the governor for final approval.

The Senate advanced HB 14 with a vote of 23 to one, with Sen. Eric Burlison standing out as the sole dissenting vote. 

“I could not stomach empowering some of the local tyrants to track our citizens,” Burlison said in a statement. “The amount of wasteful spending is nauseating. Remember every dollar spent today is a tax you will pay tomorrow.”

The budget will distribute the state’s remaining CARES Act funds to state agencies, including the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The federal funds must be used by the end of the year. 

The budget also includes $2 million for the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund, which the legislature approved over the summer without a fiscal note attached.

The Senate spent less than an hour on the floor, with no amendments offered. The only line of inquiry was between Sens. Andrew Koenig and Bill Eigel, who discussed Koenig’s pre-filed bill to limit county power over businesses, families, and places of worship. 

“I never imagined a situation where I would have to flee to the city of St. Louis to be more free,” Koenig said. “This is an emergency situation where people’s lives are being destroyed; people are going into bankruptcy because of these regulations, and they have no right to do what they’re doing.” 

Eigel agreed, saying it was the legislature’s job to “step in when they step over the line and put a stop to it.” 

Koenig’s bill would limit county-wide shutdown orders to two initial weeks over a two-year period before requiring approval from the legislature and governor. The legislation would eliminate property tax for businesses during a shutdown and disallow restrictions for religious institutions and caps on the number of people able to gather in a home at a time. 

The bill would also remove restrictions for parents in hospitals where their children are born. 

The bill is a response to restrictions enacted by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page last month. The orders restricted restaurants and bars to outdoor and curbside service, leading to a lawsuit from several local businesses and spearheaded by the Missouri Restaurant Association. The suit was dropped by a St. Louis County judge shortly after it was filed.

The St. Louis County Council voted to reject the order Tuesday. Koenig said action by a legislative body rather than an individual was what he wanted to enforce through the bill. 

“You can’t have one person making decisions like this,” Koenig told The Missouri Times. “You have separation of powers. The president can’t make laws, the governor can’t make laws, the county executive can’t make laws. That’s left for the legislative branch of government, and that’s what I hope to clarify.”

Koenig announced the bill at a press conference Tuesday at Satchmo’s, one of five restaurants that subsequently had their permits suspended by the county health department for violating health ordinances. 

The scope of the session was expanded to include a provision on COVID liability protection last month. Gov. Mike Parson reversed course on the order Tuesday, relegating the provision to the 2021 legislative session. 

Tuesday was the first day for legislators to pre-file bills.