JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are back in Jefferson City to start off what is expected to be an eventful legislative session, which includes conversations over redistricting and allocating a historic amount of money.
As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the state, some members weren’t present for the first day of the session because of the virus. Although there are no mitigation strategies inside the Capitol, the Speaker of the House said he’s not concerned as lawmakers are ramping up for a busy next five months.
Just after the clock struck noon, the General Assembly gaveled in and there will be a variety of priorities up for debate.
“Definitely Medicaid expansion being fully funded as the voters asked for and as the courts upheld,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said. “We’re looking at record budget surpluses this year, and we really want to take the opportunity to invest in Missouri.”
House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, has one main goal for the month of January.
“Biggest priority we need to work on this month is redistricting,” Vescovo said.
During a one-on-one interview Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson told FOX4’s Missouri Capitol Bureau he wants to see the large sums of funding allocated throughout the state.
“I think one, we really need to look at some of the federal money coming down,” Parson said, “We know that’s here; we know it’s in the state. I think we need a plan in place to how we are going to utilize those funds.”
On Day One in the House, Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, and Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington, both gave farewell speeches on the floor. Hill resigned Wednesday to move his family to Florida to work on his consulting business. Griesheimer’s resignation is effective Jan. 6 as he moves to a new job in St. Charles.
This means Republicans will not have a two-thirds majority in the lower chamber.
“I’ll say what we are looking forward to is the fact that now the Republicans do not have a supermajority in the House, and that means they need our support to get the emergency clause done so we can actually have an election this fall,” Quade said.
Recently, Parson appointed now-former Rep. Becky Ruth to oversee the Office of the Child Advocate and now-former Rep. Wayne Wallingford to head the Department of Revenue, another two losses for the House.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said in a press release he sent a letter to the governor asking him to call a special election to fill the vacancies in the House. Ashcroft said there are currently four open seats, and another is expected.
“If the writs are issued by Jan. 10, 2022, these elections could be held with the April 5 municipal election with minimal cost to the taxpayer but substantial benefit to Missourians,” Ashcroft said.
Lawmakers are also facing a deadline to redraw the state’s congressional district map.
“We’re going to get it out there as soon as we can. We’re going to refer it today,” Vescovo said. “The committee’s been working on it for a long time on it. We’re going to move as quickly as we can.”
While over in the Senate, tensions from previous sessions are still high in the Republican caucus.
“The chain of trust has been broken again. The minority leader couldn’t have said it better when he said the trust has been broken,” Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said.
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, questioned Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, about a “super-secret special caucus meeting” where he said not all members were invited.
“And when that circle of trust is broken, it’s broken,” Hoskins said.
All of this ahead of a November election.
“It’s an election year, so I don’t know if you’re really going to expect to move the needle a lot of things. But there are some basic fundamentals if we can build on the foundation. We’ve started with workforce development and infrastructure; we know those things work.”
Parson said he would also like to see members address more pandemic concerns when it comes to local control.
“No question some people overstepped their boundaries on the mandates and some of the things that happened in this state, in my opinion,” Parson said. “I think we need to go back and review that process and say, ‘Is there a better way to do that?’ There is nothing wrong with going back to say could we have done things to improve this.”
Quade said she had two members of her caucus absent on the first day because of COVID. When asked, Vescovo did not know how many members were missing on his side of the aisle.
“We all use common sense if we are sick, we’re going to ask the members to stay home. They are all adults,” Vescovo said. “They can police themselves, and if they are sick, they are probably going to stay home.”
Both chambers will be back in session Thursday. Lawmakers normally don’t work on Fridays, but Vescovo told reporters Wednesday there will be some Fridays that members have to work because of redistricting and this year’s large budgets.
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