The Missouri House voted Thursday afternoon in Jefferson City to approve a $28.085 billion state operating budget that includes record funding for K-12 education.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, praises the 35-member House Budget Committee.
“I think it’s a remarkable budget and I think they did a remarkably good job,” Richardson tells the Capitol Press Corps. “It has record funding for education, restores the cuts to higher education and has done so in a fiscally responsible manner.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, says protecting those with developmental disabilities is one of his top priorities.
“Large increases, almost $60 million in the Department of Mental Health to keep our commitment to taking care of that population as well as working on restoring provider rate cuts,” says Fitzpatrick.
State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, spoke Thursday on the House floor, urging her colleagues to invest in Missouri, to invest in people and to help seniors and the disabled. Lavender says Missouri is losing population and that the House must protect vulnerable citizens.
Chairman Fitzpatrick says lawmakers are working within the confines of state revenue and the consensus revenue estimate. He says the Legislature did the best they could, with what they had to work with.
He thanks all members of his committee, Republican and Democrat, including Vice Chairman State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, and ranking Democrat State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia.
Much of Thursday’s debate was focused on the controversy involving a 2017 death in eastern Missouri involving the Bourbon virus.
The House voted 110-41 Thursday to cut the state Department of Health and Senior Services’ (DHSS) budget by about $1 million and ten employees.
During an emotional House floor speech on Thursday, Representative Alferman blasted DHSS for not providing information on how many Missourians have tested positive for the virus.
“Tamela Wilson in our state passed away from Bourbon virus and our Department of Health in this state will not give us any answers on that,” Alferman tells House colleagues.
The E-Missourian newspaper in Franklin County says Meramec State Park employees have been tested for signs of the virus.
The newspaper reported in February that they submitted a Sunshine request asking DHSS for results of the employee blood tests, but were told the records are protected under state law involving medical and health records.
Citing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws, the Department also won’t tell the Legislature how many people in Missouri have tested positive for the virus.
There is a disagreement between the Missouri House and the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair on whether the state health lab will be moved from DHSS to the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
The House has voted for the move, because DHSS will not provide information on how many Missourians have tested positive for the virus.
State Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“We are not going to move the public health lab to Public Safety,” Brown tells Capitol reporters. “They’re not prepared for that, they’re not set up for it so that is not going to happen.”
Chairman Fitzpatrick tells the Capitol Press Corps he hopes Brown is right.
Fitzpatrick emphasizes that DHSS must cooperate with lawmakers, adding that his goal is not to hurt the Health Department.
Missouri lawmakers have left Jefferson City for the Easter break and won’t return to the Capitol until Tuesday afternoon.
The state Constitution requires Missouri lawmakers to approve a balanced budget by the first week in May.