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Missouri Lawmakers Uncertain When They'll Return To State Capitol

People mill in the hallway leading to the Missouri Senate chamber.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
In a normal session, lawmakers would be returning to the Capitol this week to get to work on the state budget, but the coronavirus has halted the Legislature.

Legislators were originally scheduled to be back in Jefferson City this week after the legislative spring break, but the coronavirus has put a hold on their return. 

Before the House adjourned the week of March 16, it approved a supplemental budget that includes $40 million in federal and state funds to help fight COVID-19. 

After Rep. Joe Runions, D-Grandview, tested positive for the virus, Gov. Mike Parson shut down the state Capitol until April 6 to undergo a deep cleaning. He still says getting senators back to the statehouse to vote on the supplemental budget is a top priority. 

“It’s crucial we get that supplemental done. And that drop-dead date, I would say would be April 24, so we have to get it done before that,” Parson said at his daily press briefing on Friday. 

He said he is in communication with Senate leadership and they are going to try to get back to the Capitol in early April for a vote. 

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he is working with University of Missouri and public health officials to get back for a vote as soon as possible. 

“We have no timeline for returning to the Capitol as of yet but are working as hard as we can to get a plan in place to get us back safely and quickly,” he said. 

Both the House and Senate say they are in a “wait-and-see mode.” Due to Runions testing positive, Missouri House Communications said “the vast majority of House staff won’t even be allowed back into the building until April 6 at the earliest.” 

Lawmakers are also working against a May 8 deadline to approve the state’s estimated $30 billion annual budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Although Parson did not lay out any budget cuts in any of his press briefings, he has said the budget will look much different than when he made his initial proposal in January. 

“There’s no doubt that the original budget we proposed is going to change drastically,” Parson said last week. “There will be major changes as we move forward, and none of the numbers we figured back before the first of the year is realistic.”

Parson has not said whether lawmakers will be considered “essential employees” and allowed back into the Capitol for a vote if state buildings are shut down beyond April 6, but he said he has faith in the Legislature to get the job done. 

“I do believe the Legislature, whether Democrat or Republican here in the state of Missouri, will answer that call and be up here at the state Capitol, or be wherever that might be, to make the votes,” Parson said. “They’ve got to find a way to be able to do it, and I believe they will.”

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

Send comments and questions about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.