JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri’s tradition-bound Senate is installing an audio monitoring system in its committee hearing rooms so employees, lobbyists and the public can listen to debate from their homes or offices as the pandemic rages.
Senate Administrator Patrick Baker said the changes could mean fewer people in a building that is often crowded during the nearly five-month annual session.
“It’s all because of COVID,” Baker said.
Statewide, 18,467 new confirmed cases have been reported in the past week, according to state health department data. That’s about 2,638 new cases a day on average.
As the pandemic progressed, a handful of lawmakers including Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, have been infected. Lobbyists and numerous staff members have also caught the virus. Still, masking is not widespread. During a recent meeting of the House, opposition to face coverings even in close quarters was evident, with an estimated 70 of the 163-member chamber going maskless.
Bringing Senate hearings to the internet is notable because the chamber has largely shunned technological innovation, with laptops barred from the chamber and votes cast verbally.
The House also is making changes in an attempt to give people an option of staying away from crowded corridors, with video links being installed in committee rooms that will allow people to submit testimony virtually.