Just like the rest of the state and country, all the news coming out of Jefferson City in the past month has been COVID-19 related. The Capitol has been shut down except for the Governor’s daily coronavirus updates and the General Assembly’s brief return to approve the supplemental budget.

The approval of the supplemental budget was necessary to cover shortfalls in the current fiscal year as well as give spending authority to the Governor for expenditures related to the COVID-19 relief package. Most of the nearly $6.3 billion of coronavirus expense package comes from federal dollars, with the remainder made up of primarily state general revenue funds. The funding covers many areas, including assistance to cities and counties, personal protective equipment for first responders and healthcare workers, emergency food assistance, and mobilization of the National Guard.

The fallout from the pandemic has reached far and wide. Governor Mike Parson recently announced an additional $47 million in budget withholds for the current fiscal year. This is in addition to nearly $180 million in budget restrictions announced on April 1. Businesses are suffering, unemployment claims continue to roll in, and state, city and county governments are seeing budget shortfalls which may last for months or years to come.

There is, however, an end in sight to some of the COVID-19 related shut-down. The General Assembly has made tentative plans to return to Jefferson City on April 27 to complete the final three weeks of the legislative session. The only thing certain on the agenda will be to pass the FY2021 budget. It is unclear what other legislative priorities could be debated. Possibilities include an internet sales tax plan and a prescription drug monitoring database. Other bills could be brought to the House and Senate floor, but many details need to be worked out as debate time will be very limited due to the constitutionally mandated end of session date of May 15. There will likely be many restrictions in place as far as visitors entering the
Capitol, as legislators try to balance their legislative duties with public health concerns.

Governor Parson has also announced plans to work with local leaders in an effort to re-open businesses across the state. The Governor’s stay at home order expires on May 3, and he has stated that most service businesses will be allowed to open once again with certain guidelines. Parson spoke about giving beauticians and barbershops, restaurants and box stores “an opportunity to open.” He announced the “Show Me Strong” recovery plan and said the phased-in reopening of businesses would be decided by Missouri-specific public health data.

In non-legislative news, Attorney General Eric Schmitt is pointing a finger at China for their role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Schmitt is suing China, several Chinese government entities, the Chinese Communist Party, and two Chinese laboratories in U.S. District Court. Missouri becomes the first state to sue China, in what Schmitt says is a “campaign of deceit” in how the communist county has handled the virus. In a press release, Schmitt stated “the Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistle blowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease. They must be held accountable for their actions.” Some legal scholars say China is protected by sovereign immunity and Missouri will have a difficult time moving the lawsuit forward.

We will continue to provide legislative and political updates as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. Thank you and stay safe and healthy! Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.