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Missouri lawmakers plan to resume work amid coronavirus

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A top Republican lawmaker says the Missouri Legislature is tentatively scheduled to return to work at the end of the month, a move that prompted concern from Democrats about the safety of doing so amid the coronavirus pandemic and prompted one to call it the “wrong plan at the wrong time.”

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Joplin, tweeted plans to reconvene on April 27, days after Gov. Mike Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order is set to expire April 24.

“We will continue to work toward finding the right balance between protecting the safety of #MOLeg members, staff and the public and understanding the critical nature of the work we have been elected to do for the people of Missouri,” Rowden tweeted. “We believe both are possible!”

It’s unclear whether lawmakers will try to pass policy bills or a budget for the upcoming state fiscal year that begins in July, or both.

Rowden had said details would be released sometime Monday or Tuesday. No plans were released as of the close of business day Tuesday. Rowden didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking additional comment.

Parson said it was fine for lawmakers to return to work then “as long as they abide by the rules and be careful on the safety issues.”

“I’m glad they’re coming back,” Parson said Tuesday. “I think there’s work to be done at the state Capitol, so I think it’s good.”

But the plan drew immediate pushback from Democrats, who raised concern about spreading COVID-19 and setting a bad example for the rest of Missouri.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, criticized Rowden’s plan. Rizzo said in a statement that in that case, lawmakers would be returning to the Capitol at the same time a University of Washington model predicts the coronavirus will peak in Missouri.

“The Republican proposal to gather everyone together during the worst week of the coronavirus outbreak is the wrong plan at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons,” Rizzo said.

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, called reconvening “absolutely a bad decision and lack of leadership.”

“If we come back prematurely, we’re not only putting ourselves and our fellow legislators at risk, but everyone else that would need to come to the Capitol,” Aldridge said in a statement.

Senate Administrator Patrick Baker said the Senate would use safety measures adopted when lawmakers returned to the Capitol last week to pass an emergency coronavirus aid package. He said that meant a skeleton staff, social distancing and health screenings, including taking people’s temperatures as they enter the Capitol.

House Communications Director Trevor Fox said the House was still in ongoing discussions over how to reconvene safely.

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