By Allen Andrews, State Representative
Missouri’s first confirmed cases of coronavirus have led legislative leaders from both parties, in both chambers, to consider steps to minimize exposure to the virus among Capitol lawmakers, staff and visitors.
The Missouri Senate has made the decision to adjourn a week early for their annual legislative break. The Missouri House will continue to work during the week of March 16 – 20 in order to fulfill the legislature’s constitutional obligation to pass a state operating budget. House leaders will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate daily any additional steps that may be necessary to ensure the safety of those who visit and work in the Capitol. The House will adjourn for its annual Spring Break as scheduled on Thursday, March 19.
The House Speaker, Speaker Pro Tem, and Majority Floor Leader issued a joint statement saying, “The General Assembly has the constitutional duty of writing and passing a balanced budget to fund the core function of government and the House remains focused on completing this responsibility. The legislative process for passing a budget begins in the House of Representatives and the House plans to move forward next week. The goal of both chambers is to fulfill our constitutional obligations while minimizing risk for members, staff, and visitors.”
Leaders in the House and Senate announced they were taking additional measures to ensure the health and well-being of members, staff, and visitors to the Capitol. The legislative leaders noted that with hundreds of lawmakers and thousands of guests frequently traveling back and forth from every corner of Missouri, the Capitol is an environment that will be highly susceptible to spreading infections like the coronavirus. As such, the General Assembly has encouraged guests who are not directly participating in legislative business to refrain from visiting the Capitol at this time.
Due to the large number of House members and their close proximity to guests and one another, House leadership has taken additional precautions including closing the floor and side galleries of the House Chamber to the public, as well as the House Lounge. Visitors are still able to view session from the upper galleries, and hearings will proceed as normal with the public being able to attend and testify. The goal of the House is to ensure the legislative process continues unimpeded and that visitors continue to have access, while at the same time securing high traffic areas that could promote the spread of the virus.
“It is out of an abundance of caution that the General Assembly is taking the preventative steps to minimize the risk of an outbreak in Missouri,” said House Speaker Elijah Haahr. “While the General Assembly continues to conduct business as normal, we will closely monitor the situation to take necessary actions to maintain a safe environment that will ensure the health and wellbeing of all those who work in, and visit, the Capitol.”
Lawmakers will continue to work with state and federal health officials to ensure public health resources are ready and can be used where they are needed, without delay.