Legislators want special-session details from Parson

Kurt Erickson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri lawmakers return to the Capitol this week for a rare lame-duck special session, but Gov. Mike Parson hasn't provided details of what he wants them to do.

Other than a broad outline focusing on state budget matters, Democrats and Republicans say they have not seen any proposed legislation from a governor who spent last week on the campaign trail as he tries to win a full four-year term.

"It's been a week since Governor Parson called another special legislative session, and he still hasn't seen fit to tell lawmakers exactly what he wants us to do," said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield. "In fact, since issuing his call he has been strangely silent about it. If this is important enough to merit the first lame-duck session in 50 years, you would think he would be eager to share the details."

Republicans who control the House also haven't seen any details. Parson budget chief Dan Haug did not respond to an interview request last Friday.

Parson, who has been on a 33-stop campaign bus tour heading toward Tuesday's election, announced the session for the purpose of passing a supplemental budget bill that includes funding for school lunches, homeless programs, job training grants and other issues.

It is expected he also will seek spending authority to pay for a witness protection program he says could help reduce the record number of homicides in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Money also could be allocated to the National Guard, which has been participating in the state's response to the pandemic.

Some of the spending could come from a new influx of federal stimulus funding.

Missouri has received $3.06 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and about $1.2 billion of that remains unspent. The state has funneled $542 million of the federal money to local governments and could see some of that returned if counties don't spend their allotments.

The special session, which begins Thursday, is unusual because some of the lawmakers will have either lost their races or are not seeking re-election because of term limits. Parson, who is running against Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway, also could be a lame duck if he loses.

Just as a special session on crime turned into a sometimes messy 55-day marathon that left the governor with just two of seven legislative wins, the upcoming session will not be a quick affair, despite earlier assertions from the governor.

Tentative schedules show the House will take up matters first, with an eye on finishing their work on Nov. 10. The Senate isn't scheduled to take up debate until Nov. 19, with a goal of finishing on Nov. 20.

Parson also said he is open to expanding the scope of the special session to alter state laws to shield businesses such as nursing homes from lawsuits stemming from the pandemic.

He repeated his stance on the campaign trail during a stop in Columbia last week but has not formally asked lawmakers to take the issue up when they return.

"I think some of the liability on this COVID-19 is something that needs to be addressed, because those issues are going to come too," Parson said.

Quade urged the governor to make public exactly what he wants so lawmakers can review it before the session begins.

"If he doesn't have a plan, then he needs to use the billions of dollars in federal spending authority the Legislature already has provided and call the session off before he wastes another $200,000-plus in taxpayer money like he did with his failed special session earlier this year that lasted seven weeks and accomplished little," Quade said.