(The Center Square) — The Missouri Senate will not convene Tuesday in a special session to discuss, among other things, a COVID-19 liability bill because of increasing COVID-19 cases among lawmakers and legislative staffers.
“Due to a number of positive COVID-19 cases among members and staff, the Missouri Senate will postpone action related to the special session until after the Thanksgiving holiday,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, announced Monday. “This decision was not made lightly and, although disruptive, is in the best interest of protecting members, staff, and the public.”
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said the Senate’s orientation for new members has also been postponed, telling reporters “they could not do that because, I understand, that they had people that work in those departments test positive or have been around people that have.”
Rowden and Rizzo confirmed at least one senator has tested positive with Rowden suggesting “multiple” lawmakers are expecting positive diagnoses after many attended a Senate GOP retreat last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson.
Gov. Mike Parson called the special session to approve his plan to allocate $1.27 billion remaining from the $3 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money the state received in March.
The Missouri House last week approved in a 133-5 vote a supplemental budget bill that largely replicates the governor’s request.
Late last week, Parson agreed with legislative leaders to expand the special session to include proposed bills outlining COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and employers.
The Senate was to convene Tuesday to review the House’s proposed supplementary budget bill and begin deliberations on the proposed COVID-19 liability measure. Once measures were ready, the House would reconvene the week after Thanksgiving to review and adopt them.
House Speaker-designate Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, said in a statement his chamber was not changing plans to conduct a three-day orientation this week for the 46 new lawmakers in the 163-member chamber.
“The Chief Clerk of the House has organized an orientation event following CDC guidelines utilizing social distancing, screenings, and other precautions to keep members and staff safe,” he said.
However, Vescovo added, "out of an abundance of caution," the House would postpone a two-week "masks optional" bus tour, set to begin Nov. 30, for new legislators.
The outbreak among lawmakers and legislative staffers reflects what is happening across the state as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
On Sunday, Missouri reported 3,659 new cases, down from 6,346 cases reported Saturday after exceeding 4,000 new infections four straight days and six of the previous seven.
As of Monday morning, more than 25,000 Missourians tested positive for COVID-19 over the past seven days, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) — a startling positivity rate of 44 percent.
The city of St. Louis on Saturday prohibited private gatherings of more than 10 people. St. Louis County, beginning 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, has issued a ‘safer-at-home’ order that closes the interiors of bars and restaurants and limits gatherings to 10 or less.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force (MPTF) Friday called on Parson to issue a statewide mask mandate and "safer at home" order before hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
The Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) joined the MPTF in also calling for statewide action.
“The wolf is at the door,” MHA President/CEO Herb Kuhn told Parson in a Friday letter. “Missouri’s hospitals urge you to issue a statewide masking mandate. A mask mandate may be unappealing to some, but it has become necessary. We urge your immediate action on this issue.”