As with many matters, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Missouri legislature. Despite the abbreviated 2020 legislative session, lawmakers were able to pass a number of bills and send them to Gov. Mike Parson for his approval, according to state Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia.
The shortened session saw only 51 pieces of legislation receive final approval from the General Assembly, Pollitt noted on his Facebook page.
“This number is significantly reduced from the 2019 session, which saw 95 bills make it through the legislative process,” the post states. “While the final bill count for the 2020 session was diminished, the legislature was able to address many important issues with the legislation it passed.”
Pollitt spoke to the Democrat on Wednesday by phone highlighting the work of the legislative session that ended May 15.
“Upon returning to Jefferson City, the House passed a balanced budget with $700 million in cuts,” Pollitt said. “The session ended with a flurry of omnibus bills – some passed and some died under their own weight.
“We did pass some important legislation,” Pollitt added. “We may be called back to special session later this summer to address budget shortfalls or other matters.”
One matter that may need to be addressed is if Congress allocates additional funds to state and local governments to help with budget shortfalls created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pollitt explained there were no additional requirements placed on elementary and secondary education this session, which he described as “good considering all that our schools have been and will continue to deal with in working on plans to open schools.”
Pollitt said it is his belief the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is planning to wave the new school start date if districts request it for the coming year as a result of the pandemic.
The move, if approved, would allow districts to begin classes prior to Labor Day to provide time for a curriculum review from the end of this school year.
During the final days of the session, the House and Senate voted to return a portion of the Clean Missouri law passed by voters in 2018. The new ballot initiative will allow voters the opportunity to consider other options for congressional redistricting.
The ballot measure “does not overturn the will of the voters as the legislature does not have the authority to do that in this case,” Pollitt explained. “It just gives them an opportunity to consider another option.”
While there was no passage of bills regarding a prescription drug monitoring program or taxing online sales, there were a number of bills that will make their way to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Pollitt provided a summary of some of those bills:
• COVID-19 Testing (HB 1682): Legislation meant to provide free COVID-19 testing for those who need it. The bill would cover the cost of testing up to $150 if a health care provider recommends the test be done. The bill authorizes the Department of Health and Senior Services to utilize available federal funds to pay for the test.
• Mental Health Awareness (HB 1682): Described as a wide-ranging health care bill, it will help raise awareness of the effects of mental illness on Missourians. The bill designates the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The legislation also designates July as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which is meant to raise awareness of the effects of mental illness on minorities.
• Helping Missouri Businesses (SB 599): This legislation is meant to help struggling businesses get back on their feet. The bill will give Missouri businesses increased access to capital by expanding the Missouri FIRST program, which invests in Missouri small business and agriculture entities. The legislation makes several changes to the linked deposit program. It raises the ceiling on how much state money can be devoted to the Missouri FIRST program, limits how much of the money can be deposited at any one bank and increases the percentage of loans that can be allocated to small business start-ups and expansion. The expansion of the program is intended to provide an additional source of low-cost capital to help struggling businesses and fuel the state’s economic recovery.