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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

As Special Missouri Legislative Session On COVID-19 Funds Begins, Some Want To Curb Virus Lawsuits

Gov. Mike Parson speaks with reporters on Nov. 5, 2020, at the state capitol in Jefferson City.
Gov. Mike Parson speaks with reporters on Nov. 5, 2020, at the state capitol in Jefferson City.

Missouri lawmakers began a special session on Thursday to authorize Gov. Mike Parson to spend federal money aimed at fighting the coronavirus.

But some Republicans want to do more than just approve Parson’s supplemental budget request. They also want to pass legislation to curb lawsuits against businesses that are related to the virus.

The opening of the special session was generally uneventful, with the House meeting briefly to officially start the proceedings. Before the session got underway, House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo released a letter calling for Parson to add the legal liability protections to the agenda.

“As we all do our part to help mitigate the spread and impact of COVID-19, I know there are simple steps we can take to support our struggling businesses, as well as hospitals and health care workers trying to keep Missourians safe,” said Vescovo, a Jefferson County Republican poised to become House Speaker next year. “Right now there are numerous small businesses afraid to open because of the threat of litigation tied to COVID-19.”

Vescovo’s bid to expand the special session received backing from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz.

“There’s all kinds of folks who are looking for a solution for that or looking for the potential of protections from lawsuits that may become somewhat attacking,” said Schatz, R-Sullivan.

At a press conference on Thursday, Parson said he wouldn’t commit to expanding the special session unless lawmakers came to him with a specific plan that they wanted to pass. He alluded to how other special sessions became bogged down when lawmakers quarreled over details of particular proposals, such as a recent session on violent crime.

“What I can’t do is go into a deal and it takes two months to get something done and we’re up against session,” Parson said.

Any push to shield businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 may also run into opposition from Democrats.

“If it’s an everyday person who is impacted by a COVID-related situation, we have to make sure there’s a proper support of the people and not putting corporate interests first,” said Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the supplemental budget request regarding the federal COVID-19 funding in the coming days.

Meet the same bosses

As is customary on the Thursday after a midterm or presidential election, legislators met at the Capitol to vote on their party’s leadership. And for the most part, the top Republicans and Democrats will remain the same.

The exception is in the Missouri House, where Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Town and Country, won the race for majority leader. He’ll succeed Vescovo, who is expected to assume the speakership in early January. Vescovo would replace Elijah Haahr, a Republican from Springfield who is leaving office due to term limits.

Both Schatz and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, will remain in their posts. Rowden won a close election on Tuesday against former Democratic state Rep. Judy Baker, ensuring that the GOP Senate caucus would not have to have a snap leadership election.

Senate Democrats kept Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, in his leadership spot. And House Democrats retained Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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