Even though the halls of the Capitol are empty, there is still plenty of activity in Jefferson City. Staff members in the Governor’s office have been busy reviewing all legislation that passed during session in order to determine which bills warrant a signature from the Governor. As we reported last month, budget related bills must be signed or vetoed by June 30 and a decision on policy related legislation must be made by July 14. As of the writing of this newsletter, Governor Parson had signed two supplemental budget bills and only three policy related bills. The policy bills include professional licensing reciprocity, health care provider federal reimbursement allowances, and an elections bill that allows for mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cash flow is still a major concern as state and local governments along with most businesses continue to see their budgets suffer because of COVID-19. To that end, Governor Parson announced a third round of state budget withholds for the current fiscal year on June 1. The announcement came with just a month left in the fiscal year and will hit K-12 education the hardest. The new cuts amounted to $209 million, with $131 million of that amount coming from education. The Sheltered Workshops program will see a $2 million cut, while Higher Education and Workforce Development will lose $41 million. Additionally, the Department of Corrections will take a $10 million hit, $2 million will come from the Medicaid program in the form of administrative cuts, and $6 million will come from home and community based in-home services.
In a bit of good news, unemployment numbers continue to slowly improve across the state as there were 18,679 claims for the week ending June 13. The lowest number of claims this calendar year was at the end of February, when there were 2,702 claims for the week ending February 29. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis the number stood at 101,722 for the week ending March 28.
The state of Missouri has now entered the second phase of reopening since the coronavirus shutdown, with Governor Parson saying the state is “fully open for business”. Parson made the announcement on June 11, but he also extended the state of emergency through December 30. The announcement of Phase 2 means there will be no statewide health order. Any health rules or regulations are now strictly up to local leaders. The Governor stated there is now an ample supply of testing and personal protective equipment, but he also urged people to continue with hand washing, wearing masks when appropriate, and to practice social distancing.
Special session continues to be a topic of discussion in Jefferson City. Several legislative priorities that did not cross the finish line are likely to be included in the Governor’s call. At the top of this list is the Wayfair tax which could help bring much needed revenue to the state as well as cities and counties. The implementation of the tax is seen as necessary as more and more shoppers turned to internet purchases during the coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Parson has hinted at the possibility of multiple special sessions, not only because of the coronavirus fallout but the recent wave of protests and social unrest have leaders looking at a special session dealing with public safety. Some legislators are calling for massive police reform measures due to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota while in police custody. No decisions have been made yet on the timing or on any of the topics for special session.
We will continue to keep you informed on all the political happenings in Jefferson City and across the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group