Legislative Column

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

There have been times during my legislative career when I have come to the Capitol on a Sunday night to prepare for the following week. It’s always a little eerie spending time alone in our majestic Statehouse when the halls are empty, every door is closed and the occasional footsteps reverberate off hard marble. I’m reminded of that experience a lot this week as legislators return to Jefferson City for the final weeks of the 2020 legislative session.

There’s a sober mood in the Capitol these days. Legislative activity has resumed, but few people are in the building. Those that are here keep to themselves. Everyone entering the building is subject to a health screening. Members of the Missouri National Guard check temperatures and ask visitors about their travel histories. We’re all aware that a person can feel fine and look healthy, but still carry the virus. Many legislators and staff members wear masks as they complete their work in the State Capitol. The usual handshakes and close conversations have been replaced by wary distancing, with most discussions conducted from at least six feet away.

Prior to Monday, the Senate had met for just two days since the governor declared a state of emergency on March 13. With the clock ticking toward the constitutional conclusion of the legislative session, we will spend the next few weeks trying to get as much done as possible. From my perspective, our top priority will be passage of the 2021 state budget. Early estimates suggest Missouri faces a general revenue shortfall of at least $700 million dollars. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I don’t believe there is that much fat in the state budget. Painful cuts will have to be made.

Nearly every legislative proposal submitted earlier this year – more than 560 bills in the Senate alone – are still somewhere along the legislative process. A few bills have made it through one chamber or the other and are well on their way toward passage. I believe those front-runners will gather a lot of attention as lawmakers attempt to offer amendments and stretch the scope of bill topics in order to have a favored piece of legislation ride along to the finish. It should be an interesting few weeks.

As someone who has personal experience with family members living in long-term residence homes, I’m concerned that our state’s nursing homes don’t have the resources they need to continue operation during the coronavirus crisis. I also serve on Missouri’s Health Facilities Review Committee, which oversees allocation of resources through the Certificate of Need program. Through this experience, I’ve gained some insight into how carefully facilities are managed to contain costs. In my opinion, our nursing homes are particularly vulnerable at this time. I am truly worried about the facilities that serve our seniors, as well as the hard-working men and women who staff those places. I promise to keep them in mind as we consider the state’s response to the current crisis.

I am also mindful of the extraordinary challenges that face our governor and public health officials. They’re in a tough spot. If they’re cautious in restarting our state’s economy, I believe many will say they’re moving too slow. If they move too fast, and the spread of the virus accelerates, they’ll take the blame. I don’t envy the governor for his position, but I have every confidence he will guide our state wisely.

These are tough times, and I believe there are more tough days ahead. My faith in God tells me we’ll get through it, though. We’ll be faced with some hard choices in the days ahead, but we’ll approach them with care and thoughtfulness. The halls of the Capitol may be empty and quiet, but we know our work here affects millions across the state. We’ll do our best to serve your interests as we face the decisions before us.

Out of an abundance of caution, Senate offices remain closed to the public. Although we will not be available for visitors, you may contact us by email or phone. Please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at 573-751-1882.