The 2021 session gaveled in on January 6th. The first two weeks of session were mostly ceremonial in nature. The House and Senate members took their oaths of office, named committee members, establish the operating rules of each chamber and allowed for newly elected Senators and Representatives to adjust to the lawmaking process.
Governor Mike Parson and other statewide elected officials were sworn into their respective offices on January 11 during the Bicentennial Inauguration ceremony. The event was held on the south lawn of the Capitol and featured a flyover of the B-2 Stealth bomber as Parson took his oath of office. Other special events typically associated with inauguration were put on hold due to the continued Coronavirus concerns. Missing from the day was the usual parade through downtown Jefferson City along with the Inaugural Ball and Grand March held in the rotunda of the Capitol. Organizers are hopeful those events and more can be held later in the year when Missouri celebrates 200 years of statehood.
Although session has just begun, the Capitol has already seen a wave of controversy as Representative Wiley Price was recently censured by his colleagues in the House of Representatives. Price, a Democrat from St. Louis, had been accused of various indiscretions, including having sex with an intern, perjury, and threats of retaliation against a staff member. Members of the House Ethics Committee issued a report outlining the accusations against Price, which resulted in a debate lasting nearly four hours on a resolution to censure him. In the end, the measure passed by a 140-3 margin. Price has since been removed from all committees, is no longer allowed to caucus with the Democrats, will no longer be allowed to have interns working in his office, and he must repay over $22,000 to cover the cost of the Ethics Committee investigation.
Coronavirus concerns continue in and around the Capitol as several House members and staff have either tested positive or are in quarantine. This led to session being cancelled in the House for the week of January 18. However, as of the writing of this report, the Senate was able to continue with business as usual. After the COVID outbreak in the House of Representatives, it was announced that a rapid testing clinic would be opened in the Capitol for legislators, staff and others who regularly work in the Capitol such as lobbyists and journalists. They hope to have the clinic open the first of February.
Committee work has begun in both chambers as well. However, the committee process is much different this year as both chambers have limited space available due to social distancing in hearing rooms. This has forced many to wait in the hallway listening to the hearing on their phones until it is their turn to testify or someone leaves the hearing room freeing up space.
Despite the shut down in the House, legislators in both chambers continue to file legislation at a near-record pace. To date, members have filed nearly 1,400 bills and resolutions. Once again, there are several measures seeking to address an increase in the state motor fuel tax, in order to provide increased funding for highway construction and maintenance. Right-to-work along with other legislation impacting the construction industry have been filed again this year.
Governor Mike Parson gave his State of the State address on January 27, where he announced his legislative priorities for the current session and outline his budget plans for the next fiscal year. The Governor continued his theme of infrastructure development and job growth. Although the Governor released his budget recommendations, the budget will be watched closely throughout the process with anticipation of additional stimulus money from the federal government and the continued impact COVID has had on state revenues. It is expected the budget will be significantly impacted for several years to come.
We will continue to keep you informed of legislative happenings in Jefferson City and around the state through weekly email updates. If you are not receiving these weekly updates, please contact Susan Winklemann, Nikki Strong, Stong Consulting Group, LLC