Missouri’s governor wants lawmakers to focus on the state operating budget during the final few weeks of the 2020 session, and GOP legislative leaders in both chambers say that is their top priority.

Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, at podium, and House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, speak at a virtual press briefing on April 8, 2020 in Jefferson City (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

During a media briefing last week, Missourinet asked Governor Mike Parson (R) what issues lawmakers should focus on, when they return to the Capitol in Jefferson City on Monday.

“They come here (to the Statehouse) to do the budget by May 8th, that’s what they’re coming back here for, that’s their main objective, my understanding of that, and that’s the one thing that we really need to focus on,” Parson says.

Under the state Constitution, Missouri lawmakers are required to approve a balanced state operating budget by May 8. That’s less than two weeks away.

While time will be a factor, Missouri’s Senate leader believes lawmakers will send a balanced budget to the governor’s desk by the May 8th constitutional deadline. Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, expects the House to give final budget approval on Wednesday.

“We believe that we (the Senate) can begin the process that week after the (April) 29th, work possibly through the weekend to get our budget markup done,” says Schatz.

Schatz knows the House and Senate budgets will have differences, and he’s allotting time for House and Senate budget writers to negotiate those differences in a conference committee. The conference committee work would take place next week.

The budget is also the top priority for House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.

The House gavels-in Monday at noon, and House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, says the House has scheduled six hours of budget debate for Monday. House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, expects the House to give initial approval to the budget on Monday. He expects final House approval on Wednesday. The budget would then head to the Senate.

Chairman Smith agrees with Governor Parson, that lawmakers may return to the Capitol this summer for a special session on another supplemental budget.

The Senate will gavel-in Monday afternoon at 4, although two Senate committees will meet before session begins.

Lawmakers have lost four to five weeks of session time because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The last day of the 2020 legislative session is Friday, May 15. Pro Tem Schatz tells Missourinet that many bills will die, in the session’s final three weeks.

“I would say probably more than has ever in the past, because there’s probably going to be a very, very minimal number of bills that will make it across the finish line,” Schatz says.

While he’s keeping his expectations low on policy issues, Pro Tem Schatz remains hopeful that lawmakers can approve a bipartisan prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) and a legislative redistricting plan. The redistricting proposal has been a priority for Republicans, but Democrats oppose it, saying Missourians overwhelmingly passed the 2018 “Clean Missouri” proposal.

As for PDMP, Missouri is the only state in the nation without one.

Missouri House Chief Clerk Dana Rademan Miller tells Missourinet they have supplied all House members and staff with cloth masks, which are cotton and washable. She says all are encouraged, but not required, to wear them and to continue to practice social distancing protocols when they return to the Capitol on Monday.

Click here to listen to the full six-minute interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, which was recorded on April 24, 2020:

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