The month of March has been unprecedented not only around the globe, but also in Missouri and within the halls of the Capitol. As everyone is now very aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually all aspects of everyday life. In Jefferson City, we have seen the legislative session come to a halt and the Capitol itself has been closed to all but essential employees. Multiple members of the House of Representatives and staff members are now in self-quarantine after the news that Representative Joe Runions (D-Jackson County), had been hospitalized in Kansas City and tested positive for the virus. Runions tested positive for coronavirus on March 20, and thus far is the only lawmaker to have fallen ill to the virus. His last day in the Capitol was March 12, and those who came into contact with him have been urged to take all necessary precautions. At last word, Runions was no longer on a ventilator, but remains hospitalized. In a statement released to media outlets, Runions said, “Although I remain hospitalized, I am getting better, but it will be a long recovery. The most important thing to me right now is for the doctors, nurses and hospitals in our state to get all of the support and supplies they need as they work to treat this illness. My doctors are deeply concerned that they could run out of vital supplies, especially the equipment they need to keep themselves safe while caring for patients. They also say expanded testing is needed to more quickly identify and treat those who have contracted COVID-19.”
Governor Mike Parson has been briefing reporters daily on the progression of the disease within the state, including the number of tests being done, and the distribution of supplies and equipment to health care workers and first responders. Thus far, Parson has enacted a “social distancing order”, which requires Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams to require social distancing statewide. The order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 persons and requires distancing of at least six feet between people. It was set to take effect Monday, March 23 and last until April 6.
Before the onset of the coronavirus, the legislature had been making slow, but steady progress on several bills of interest to ASA. HB1804, which streamlines the permitting process within the Department of Natural Resources has cleared the House and awaits consideration in the Senate. SB906 changes the structure of vehicle registration fees and would add nearly $47 million to the state road fund is set to be voted on in the Senate Transportation Committee. HB2550 and SB991, which are ASA’s priority bills dealing with the right to stop work for lack of payment are awaiting committee hearings. Other bills of interest including roofing contractor licensure, modifications to the amount paid by employers to unemployment compensation, and the right for an employer to refuse to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace have also all made progress. However, the status of all legislation is now in question with the closure of the Capitol.
Although the legislative process has come to a halt, lawmakers must still formulate a plan on how they will pass a budget for fiscal year 2021. The General Assembly is mandated by the state constitution to pass a spending plan and the executive branch may not expend funds without authority from the legislature. As of the writing of this report, the budget has cleared the committee process in the House, but still faces debate on both the House and Senate floor before heading to the Governor. It is not clear if, when, or how leadership in the House and Senate plan to accommodate debate and voting on the state budget. It is also not clear what the General Assembly or the Governor intend to do with all other legislative agenda items. With no announced plan for the General Assembly to reconvene after their scheduled spring break, the possibility certainly exists for nothing but the budget to pass this year. However, as we have seen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation changes daily.
We will continue to keep you informed on the status of the legislative session and politics in general in Jefferson City and around the state. We appreciate the opportunity to represent you.
Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.