The Missouri Senate intends to return to work next week to work on supplemental spending for this fiscal year but with protections in place to protect members from infection, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said.
Rowden didn't give a specific date for lawmakers to convene, but said he wants to allow the public to view debate from the Senate galleries. He is, however, asking people not to attend.
"I strongly discourage them from doing it," Rowden said. "We are working to get some additional livestreaming capabilities stood up on our side. But the idea of completely keeping the public out is something that gives us a little bit of pause."
The Missouri Senate currently has online live-streaming audio of its debates but no visual streaming. The Missouri House has visual and audio live-streaming of its sessions.
The House was last in session March 18, when it passed a bill to supplement spending for the year that ends June 30. The bill as passed in the House included $40 million for emergency coordination by the Department of Health and Senior Services, a number that will grow dramatically once the Senate gets to work, Rowden and state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said in separate interviews.
Legislation passed in Congress to address the national emergency has included several measures to bring relief to state governments. The federal government is paying a larger share of the Medicaid program and sending direct aid to the states, with each state to receive at least $1.5 billion to support general budgets for costs ranging from public schools to prisons.
Figures are not yet available, but state revenues are expected to decline dramatically as sales drop off and unemployment rises. In addition, the state has delayed the normal April 15 date for tax returns from individuals and corporations to July 15, pushing receipt of taxes due for 2019 into the next fiscal year.
Individuals and companies that make quarterly tax payments that were due April 15 have also been given an extra three months to send their checks to Jefferson City.
"They have had more time to see what the initial response from the federal government has been and make amendments to better reflect federal dollars coming down," Kendrick said. "They will be able to anticipate the cash flow problem the state will face better than the House was able to anticipate it."
Once the Senate has amended the spending bill, it must return to the House to ratify any changes. In addition, the House has not passed any of the appropriation bills for the coming fiscal year and lawmakers must do so by May 8 under the Missouri Constitution. The House has not been in regular session since passing the supplemental spending bill.
"I would expect the House to meet that week, or early the following week to debate and approve the fiscal 2020 supplemental budget," said Kendrick, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
When the House would be able to meet to pass the budget for the coming year is uncertain, Kendrick said.
"Beyond that, the timeline becomes less clear," Kendrick said. "We need to work on the FY21 budget, approve it and send it to the Senate, but forecasting revenue will be difficult."
To protect members of the Senate, Rowden said he and other Senate leaders have been conferring with University of Missouri Health Care and the Boone and Cole County health departments. They are discussing ways to reduce risk by routing members into the Capitol Building in one area and the public through another door.
All visitors to the capitol must go through a security screening. A health screening could be added to that protocol.
"There’s a whole host of things we are trying collectively, working with the Capitol Police and the Office of Administration," Rowden said. "We need to get as much of that in place this week to do that (meet) next week."
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