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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Missouri Senate Postpones Special Session After Coronavirus Outbreak

The Missouri Senate is postponing its portion of the special legislative session related to COVID-19 liability and federal funding because of positive coronavirus cases in the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted on Monday that the decision is “in the best interest of protecting members, staff, and the public.”

Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said that on top of the special legislative session, the Senate was supposed to hold orientation for new members, which also has been postponed.

“Those staffers usually conduct the orientation to teach the senators how and when to file bills, go through their office budget,” Rizzo said. “They could not do that because, I understand, that they had people that work in those departments test positive or have been around people that have.”

Rizzo said at least one senator has tested positive for the virus.

This decision to postpone comes after a GOP event was held in Branson last week. Photos on Gov. Mike Parson’s Twitter show that few masks were worn and that there was little social distancing. The governor has repeatedly stressed the importance of personal responsibility but has not mandated mask wearing.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services could not immediately be reached regarding possible positive cases or contact tracing from the event.

The Missouri House passed a supplemental budget last week that ensured the state would have access to additional federal dollars for coronavirus relief. The deadline to use that money is the end of the year.

After the House passed its final version of the legislation, Parson expanded his call for the session to include COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, schools and health care providers. On Friday, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, filed legislation.

Though the deadline is looming to pass the $1.2 billion supplemental budget, Rizzo said he is not worried because all senators understand it needs to be done. It also passed the House with only four "no" votes.

He said the liability bill is more contentious and will need some work to get Democrats to agree to it.

Rowden could not immediately be reached for comment.

A statement issued by House Speaker Designee Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, said his chamber is also postponing a new member bus tour “out of an abundance of caution,” but has decided to move forward with the three-day orientation this week at the state Capitol.

The statement read, in part: “The Chief Clerk of the House has organized an orientation event following CDC guidelines utilizing social distancing, screenings, and other precautions to keep members and staff safe.”

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.
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