Missouri lawmakers will return to work later this month, but it’s not clear if everyone’s together on that.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Republican leaders of the MIssouri House and Senate said they are trying to balance safety with the need to resume work.
"The decision to move forward on April 27 was not an easy one, however it is absolutely critical for the people of Missouri that we keep the state government funded and services operating without interruption," the statement issued by House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, Senate President Pro-Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, read. "We will use the intervening time to monitor the trajectory of Missouri’s coronavirus cases as well as assess the impact of newly issued federal guidance and disaster funds on the state budget."
Rowden had tweeted Monday afternoon that the legislature is "tentatively planning to return to regular session on Monday, April 27th."
He added that he and other leaders are working to balance safety concerns with the need to get work done amid the pandemic, saying "We believe both are possible!"
He also promised "a full statement with additional information" within 24 hours with fellow Republican leaders who control the House. The statement was a day later than he forecast.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Republicans should be careful with predictions of what might be safe in two weeks given how fast things change in a pandemic.
"Anything less puts lives unnecessarily at risk," she said.
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, accused Republicans of trying to ram through "special interest legislation" at a time when the state’s struggle with the virus could be at its worst.
He pointed out that as of Monday, a prominent model from researchers at the University of Washington projected that daily deaths from the virus would peak at around 50 per day in the week beginning April 27.
And while he didn’t specify what he meant by "special interest legislation" in his statement, a spokesman said later that Rizzo was referring to chatter among insiders about plans to pass two controversial bills.
One would ask voters to reverse changes they made to the redistricting process in 2018 that could see Republicans lose seats; the other would limit the amount of punitive damages corporations could face in lawsuits.
Both had been top priorities for Republican leaders before the outbreak put most legislation on hold in mid-March, but they haven't spoken publicly about bringing them back to the forefront recently.
Rizzo said that if lawmakers were to return again, they should focus on passing the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and "meaningful legislation" to help people regain jobs, health care and peace of mind lost in the outbreak.
The idea of coming back on April 27 found some support in the executive branch, though.
Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican himself, said in his daily news conference Wednesday that he thought lawmakers should return to work.
"I do believe it is safe for them to return," he said.
On Tuesday, Parson said there’s only one issue he’s focused on.
"When I talk to legislators right now, COVID-19's front and center," Parson said.
"We’ve got to get the economy going," he added, "and we've got to get people back to work, because if we don't do those two things, most of the rest of the priorities are not going to matter much."
The legislature’s regular session ends May 15, and the state Constitution requires the Fiscal Year 2021 budget to be passed by May 8. But Parson has said he could call a special session in June to pass a budget if necessary.
Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune contributed to this report.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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