COVID forces change in Missouri Gov. Parson’s State of the State address

Instead of a joint session in the House chambers, the governor will speak in the Missouri Senate

The Missouri House floor for the 2019 State of the State address.
The Missouri House chambers during the 2019 State of the State address (photo courtesy of the Missouri Governors Office).

A COVID-19 outbreak among lawmakers and staff has forced Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to forgo plans to deliver his State of the State address in the House chamber to a joint session of the General Assembly.

Instead he will speak in the Missouri Senate at 3 p.m.

Parson’s decision comes after the House cancelled last week’s session because of a spike in positive cases, and when at least two Senators — Republican Bill Eigel and Democrat John Rizzo — are in quarantine after Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig and a staffer for the conservative caucus tested positive in recent days

It’s unclear if any Senate Democrats or members of the House are planning to attend Wednesday’s speech.

In a statement to The Independent, Rizzo said the governor has mishandled the pandemic from the beginning, and now it has resulted in “the House not allowing him to give his speech in their chamber.”

“The governor’s desire to give a big speech in-person is about vanity and optics,” said Rizzo, the Senate minority leader. “He could easily give this address online from his office without putting anyone else’s health at risk.”

Despite the fact that the Senate is a much smaller chamber than the House, a joint statement released Wednesday afternoon by GOP legislative leadership said holding Parson’s speech in the Senate would ensure “attendees can meet CDC guidelines recommending six feet of social distancing.”

House leaders met in Speaker Rob Vescovo’s office shortly after 11 a.m. to discuss how to proceed if the Senate was unable to muster a quorum for the traditional joint session. Each chamber must have a majority of its members, 18 in the case of the Senate, for the joint session to convene.

House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, told The Independent that the meeting focused on whether the speech could be given to the House only or in some other less formal setting.

Because the speech will now be delivered when the Senate is not in session, a quorum will not be required.

According to a roll call when the Senate convened Wednesday morning, Republican Sens. Eric Burlison, Cindy O’Laughlin, Bob Onder and Jeanie Riddle, along with Eigel, Koenig and Rizzo, were marked absent.

Plans were originally put in place for lawmakers and other officials to be more spread out than usual, with Senators taking seats in a fourth-floor gallery of the House instead of on the chamber’s floor alongside their colleagues.

The State of the State is the annual speech where the governor looks back on the past year, makes a pitch for legislation to implement new policies and deliver a proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for Parson didn’t respond to a request for comment.