Missouri Senate discusses safety, virus, and education reform while House is off due to COVID cases

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Lawmakers at the Missouri Capitol still have security on their mind, even though things are and have been peaceful at the statehouse.

Senators were the only lawmakers in the building this week as the House was shut down by increasing COVID-19 cases. Besides education reform and COVID liability and precautions, both sides of the aisle said they want to keep the added security through the end of session.

“I don’t think the conversation is going away,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said during a press conference Thursday. “I think we feel, on a normal day, most of us feel pretty safe here.”

Republican or Democrat, they agree on safety.

“Even when we’re kind of not in this hyperbolic state, we are always kind of the subject of some type of anger or angst,” Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo (D-Kansas City) said. “I think to have more security is probably always a good thing.”

For more than a week, extra law enforcement officers have been on hand at the Missouri Capitol and lawmakers want them to stay.

“I think for the moment, it’s in the best interest of the legislature,” Rowden said. “You don’t want to assume that everything is fine until it’s not in this situation. You got to be proactive and if we learned anything that happened at the capitol, we’re going to probably lean to the side of being safer than not.”

“At the time that we’re at right now, it’s definitely necessary for the rest of this session at the very least,” Rizzo said.

Besides safety concerns, Senators discussed other major topics this week like education reform, COVID liability and local control.

“There were some holes exposed in public education, that was no fault of public education because of COVID,” Rowden said. “There are some tools, resources and flexibility that we can give to them that would have served them well in the pandemic, but I think can serve them well going forward.”

A large education package passed out of a Senate committee hearing Thursday. Senate Bill 55 will now go before the full Senate for a vote, which is expected next week. If it would pass, it would allow charter school expansion, homeschooled kids to participate in public school activities, like sports, and would create a tax credit for parents. Currently charter schools are only in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, but under SB 55, they would be allowed in communities with 30,000 or more people.

“I hope it’s a good package for kids,” Rowden said. “I don’t much care about the conversation between public and private education or charters or anything else, I just want to do what’s best for kids.”

The education bill is expected to be heard in front of the full Senate next week.

The pandemic has constantly been a major concern for everyone in the statehouse.

“As we continue and start the process of passing public policy, obviously COVID is going to be in the forefront,” Rowden said. “We’re doing the best we can here to make sure our folks our safe.”

Both Rowden and Rizzo would like to see some rapid testing in the statehouse for everyone who works in the statehouse.

“I’m 100 percent for having a clinic or testing facility in the building,” Rizzo said. “I think that we could probably fund it with COVID money.”

“The House has been working on a solution,” Rowden said. “The House’s idea would be on their side of the building but would be for everyone in the building. I think the testing component is the next big piece to make sure we know we’re going to have issues arise.”

Rowden said Senators also plan to take up liability protection for businesses regarding COVID next week.

The House will be back in session next week, as Gov. Parson’s State of the State address is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in the House chamber.

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