The Missouri Legislature voted Wednesday in Jefferson City to approve a historic $6.2 billion emergency relief package to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 58 Missourians and has cost thousands of jobs across the state.
The Senate approved the bill first, before the House took it up and approved it on a 147-4 vote. Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, tells Missourinet that he and House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, have signed the supplemental budget, sending it to the governor’s desk.
The House debate was unlike anything that’s ever been seen in the chamber, with Speaker Haahr wearing a mask and the chamber limited to ten people at one time. There were no visitors sitting in the upper galleries, which normally are full of lobbyists, schoolchildren and the general public.
State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, says the supplemental includes additional funding for suicide prevention and mental health.
“When you put people into a stressful situation and forcing them to stay home without a paycheck and wondering how they’re going to make it to the next month, that leads to some very serious consequences,” Wood says.
Governor Mike Parson says more than 100,000 Missourians have filed for unemployment this past week.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, says local health departments across Missouri are critical to containing COVID-19.
“We would ask that the executive branch remember the local health departments who are really underfunded at the state level, across the board,” Kendrick says.
The supplemental also includes $90 million for nursing homes to help with infection control. The state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) says Missouri has 3,327 COVID-19 cases and 58 deaths.
While the House vote was bipartisan, Wednesday’s floor debate did become heated briefly when Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Republicans reacted with scorn, when House Democrats tried to increase funding for the coronavirus outbreak three weeks ago.
“When we (House Democrats) warned that the $33 million in pandemic spending authority then included in the supplemental appropriations bill was woefully insufficient, folks on the other side accused us of political exploitation and shameful behavior,” Quade says.
But House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, fired back, accusing Democrats of politicizing the issue.
“There is no action we could have taken three weeks ago that would have kept us from being here today,” says Vescovo. “The truth is, the only people playing politics with this very serious issue are the ones on the other side of the aisle, Mr. Speaker.”
Wednesday’s House vote featured members wearing masks and going into the chamber to vote, four at a time. Only a few House microphones were used, and the chamber’s back door was kept open, so members did not have to touch door knobs.
House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, notes the supplemental increased from $413 million a few weeks ago to the current total of $6.2 billion.
Chairman Smith says the supplemental budget also includes about $300 million in funding for K-12 schools to handle COVID-19 related expenses. He says it also includes $12 million for Head Start.
During his floor speech, Smith warned against partisanship, saying Missourians have died from the coronavirus and that others are hurting and need help.
Across the chamber in the Senate, Pro Tem Schatz (R) and Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, also praise the supplemental’s importance.
Rizzo says the relief package is the most robust funding for progressive policies that Missouri has ever seen. He notes it includes $40 million for food banks and Meals on Wheels.
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