JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — After the first full week of the session, COVID-19 is stopping the Missouri House of Representatives from proceedings at the Capitol.
While House members have next week off due to rising COVID cases, Senators said it’s critical to keep the process moving forward at the statehouse.
“The reality of it is, if we stop every time someone quarantines, we will never be here,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said. “We are continuing to work with the folks in the House, the governor’s office on continued watch over COVID-19 protocols and testing and making sure that our folks are as safe as they can be while we continue to do that work.”
Less than two weeks into the 2021 legislative session, COVID-19 causes the House to put the brakes on. Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services Dr. Randall Williams said there were positive cases early in the week and those people were quarantined and isolated.
“There were enough of it in the House that the House decided not to meet next week,” Williams said. “I don’t think they saw it on the Senate side as much, so they continued meeting.”
Williams said he sat down with the House and the Senate this year to talk about the precautions to take while lawmakers are in the building. Those with symptoms receive a BinaxNOW rapid test and then, if it’s positive, are given a PCR test.
“We offer that to them because we believe the business of the people needs to go on,” Williams said.
House Leadership said in a statement sent Thursday night:
“Due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the building, we are exercising an abundance of caution to protect members, staff, and visitors by canceling the session next week. Our goal is to return to work the following week.”
Senate leadership decided Friday to continue with the session next week, but Democrats are concerned.
“I’ve had caucus members that are legitimately worried that if certain members on the other side get it, they won’t get a test,” Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo, D- Kansas City, said. “Put that many people in one place in a building that doesn’t really have ventilation of an outdoor arena or something like that, it’s just going to be a matter of time.”
Senate Majority Leadership released a statement Friday about returning to the Capitol next week:
“The Missouri Senate will be in session as scheduled beginning Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. At this early stage in the legislative session, it’s critical that we keep the process moving forward for the benefit of all Missourians. The greater ease to which senators and staff can remain socially distant gives us confidence in our ability to work safely through the week. We are cognizant of the fluid nature of this pandemic and will make adjustments to the Senate schedule as are appropriate. Individual senators have taken additional precautions in their own offices, and testing is available for symptomatic employees working in the Capitol building.”
Besides, COVID, safety and security are also a high priority. Earlier this week, the FBI warned state Capitols across the country of possible violent protests before the presidential inauguration.
“We are also having those conversations with those entities on safety and security for the next week,” Rowden said.
Capitol Police requested assistance from other agencies like the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources for security at the statehouse. With extra officers on hand, some are still worried.
“I had a 45-minute conversation with my wife yesterday,” Rizzo said. “She’s concerned. My dad asked me to take my ‘Joe Biden for President’ bumper sticker off my car because he’s worried that if somebody comes in, they will see my car.”
“There’s not any urgency for us to be here, so we’re going to be safe about it and be mindful of what we hear from our FBI counterparts,” Rowden said. “If we can be here, we’re going to be here, but we’re not going to be dumb about it.”
Williams said both the House and the Senate are working to put their own testing inside the Capitol, but until, only those with symptoms will be tested. Both sides of the aisle seem to agree testing is needed.
“I think access to that testing in a quick manner is what we’re trying to accomplish, and I think we will be able to get it done,” Rowden said.
I hope we can get some sort of testing in place,” Rizzo said. “I’ve been advocating for that to try and get some sort of once-a-week testing in place that we could possibly see who has been infected or who is contagious. We are kind of flying blind without testing.”
Masks are not required inside the statehouse.