The Missouri Senate is delaying plans to pass an emergency budget bill this week because an undisclosed number of senators and staff have COVID-19.
Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted Monday that “due to a number of positive COVID-19 cases among members and staff,” work scheduled for this week will have to wait until next month.
Senators originally planned to use the week to give final approval to the budget bill and send it to Gov. Mike Parson, who called a special session to pass it beginning Nov. 5.
The $1.3 billion spending plan is designed to help the state spend all of its federal COVID-19 relief money before it expires at the end of the year and allocate money to pay for things like meals for schoolchildren, homeless prevention efforts and child support.
The Senate was also set to start work on another bill Parson called for to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
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Rowden, the Senate majority leader, said the decision to delay action until after Thanksgiving, “was not made lightly and, although disruptive, is in the best interest of protecting members, staff, and the public.”
Rowden did not respond to questions about exactly how many people are now infected with COVID-19, but it did not escape notice that the announcement followed Senate Republicans’ retreat at Branson’s Big Cedar Lodge last week.
Photos of one event shared by Gov. Mike Parson’s staff show a number of senators sitting around a U-shaped conference table without masks, which could have made it harder for anyone infected to spread the disease.
Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, and Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, both attended the retreat.
In interviews Monday, both men said they are not among those who have tested positive.
Hough said he would probably “err on the side of caution and get a test this week,” though.
Both men also said a good number of members wore masks much of the time at the three-day retreat.
“I had a mask with me,” Hough said, “and I’m not going to say I had it on all the time, but if I was in close proximity with someone, I did.”
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But Burlison added that even with masks, “this is a virus where even if you’re the most diligent individual possible, when you’re in a room, it can transfer.”
A few hours after the Senate’s announcement, incoming House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, announced that a traditional bus tour of the state that newly-elected lawmakers go on would also be postponed.
The tour raised eyebrows last week when it was reported that one bus on the tour would require masks and the other would not.
New member orientation scheduled this week at the Capitol is still on.
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.