JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The rising number of COVID cases in the Missouri Capitol could prolong passing legislation that is on a deadline.
Lawmakers are on a time limit to redraw the state’s congressional map and pass a supplemental budget. With no mitigation strategies required in the statehouse, both House and Senate leaders said members are dealing with the virus, which could put a pause on those key issues.
“Folks are dropping pretty quickly and whether that’s their children or themselves getting positive,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said.
Quade said she didn’t know the exact number of members affected by the virus, but earlier this week Rep. Keri Ingle (D-Lee’s Summit) tweeted she was missing the session this week due to COVID.
In the past week, the state has reported more than 60,000 new COVID cases, roughly 8,000 new cases a day.
“I know there are positive COVID cases popping up here and there so what that does over there [House], what that does over here [Senate], remains to be seen,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said.
The virus is taking a toll inside the Missouri Capitol. Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) tweeted he tested positive for COVID after using an at-home BinaxNow test.
“We’re telling folks to follow the recommendations of the CDC as it relates to if you have symptoms, obviously get the heck out of here, if you test positive, stay at home, wait your five days and come back in masks,” Rowden said. “We’re telling folks to be careful.”
A spokesperson for the House Chief Clerk says they do not keep a count on lawmakers out due to COVID, but testing is available for staff and members.
A deadline is looming for lawmakers to redraw the Congressional map and allocate $5 billion which includes a pay raise for state employees.
Thursday afternoon, the House Rules Committee passed the legislation containing the new map with an 8-4 vote. Representatives are expected to vote on the map—which includes six Republican districts and two Democrat districts—Tuesday afternoon, but Republicans will need help from across the aisle.
“We know that due to the resignations in the Republican party there is now not a constitutional majority for the emergency clause to pass which means there will be needed Democratic support to make sure that gets across the finish line,” Quade said.
Quade told reporters Thursday the Democrats will offer changes to the map Tuesday, but they will also use their wants as leverage for votes.
“We’re also talking about things through the supplemental budget, through the budget as a whole as well as other public policy that we care deeply about,” Quade said.
Currently, St. Charles County is spilt in half between the 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts. Shortly after the House Special Committee on Redistricting passed the map Thursday, senators and representatives from that area sent a letter to the chairman, asking him to consider putting the county in one district. Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) was one of the nine members who signed off on the letter.
“The unfortunate part about the St. Charles folks is that it’s a big county and it’s getting bigger, so it’s not from a logistics point, it is not an insignificant ask to put that entire county in one district,” Rowden said. “It requires a bit of a herculean effort.”
Senate leadership said Thursday they support the 6-2 map that passed out of committee. Rowden said once it comes over to the Senate from the House, it will be on a fast track to get it approved.
“The fewer changes the better for me, so you sent that map over, we’re going to pass it,” Rowden said. “Folks wants to stick up for their backyard, they don’t want their county or their town spilt anymore than it has to be if it has to be at all. That’s what makes this process so incredibly difficult.”
Next week Wednesday, Gov. Mike Parson will give his State of the State address in the House chamber. Last year, just hours before the speech, it was moved to the Senate because of COVID. This is where he makes his budget request for lawmakers.