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Missouri lawmakers return to Capitol for virus funding bill

Missouri lawmakers are taking extraordinary steps to return to the usually crowded state Capitol on Tuesday to pass an emergency coronavirus funding bill.

The Capitol has been closed to everyone except essential staff since March 24. But lawmaker approval is needed for Gov. Mike Parson to spend what could amount to billions of dollars in federal funding for medical supplies, local governments, schools and other aid.

Budget documents provided to senators and staff last week show the Republican governor’s administration wants $150 million in state funding for the State Emergency Management Agency for cash-flow purposes to buy medical supplies and protective gear as soon as possible while waiting for as much as $862 million in reimbursements from the federal government.

Parson’s administration also is asking for the authority to provide as much as $1 billion in federal aid to cities and counties, $1.8 billion to public schools, and $500 million to public colleges and universities.

A Senate budget committee took up the funding package Tuesday. Members of the full House and Senate are expected to give the measures final approval Wednesday.

Senators on the Appropriations Committee are going so far as to sit at individual tables to ensure social distancing while debating, Senate Administrator Patrick Baker said. Only 20 members of the public will be allowed in the committee room, which normally can seat 100 people, he said. Their chairs will be spaced 6 feet apart. The committee hearing will be live streamed.

Members of the public will be allowed in the Capitol to watch the House and Senate proceedings from balcony seating, although Senate Republicans urged people to watch or listen from home.

Those who come to the Capitol will have their temperatures checked and will be questioned about whether they’ve tested positive for coronavirus or been exposed to someone who has tested positive.

Lawmakers have been encouraged to stay in in their offices until they want to debate, ask questions or vote.

Communications Director Trevor Fox said the House aims to have fewer than 10 people in the chamber at any one time. He said the plan is to have each lawmaker in the 163-member House vote one at a time.

One state lawmaker, Rep. Joe Runions, has reported testing positive for COVID-19. The Kansas City-area Democrat at one point was hospitalized but is now recovering at home.

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