JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in his State of the State speech Wednesday touted his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, even as an outbreak among lawmakers forced him to break tradition and switch the venue for his address.
"Time and time again, our administration has addressed the challenges of our communities and our state head on rather than leaving them for another day, another administration, or another generation," Parson said in prepared remarks provided to reporters before he began his speech.
The speech was moved from the House Chamber, where it traditionally takes place, earlier in the day because of COVID-19 concerns with that branch of the legislature.
Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the governor's office was informed Wednesday morning by the House that he could not use the chamber because of COVID-19 concerns. Instead, she said the Republican governor would deliver his speech in the Senate, which is smaller than the House chamber.
The House canceled all of its work last week following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among members, but it returned to work this week. The Senate has remained in session, though Sen. Andrew Koenig said he has tested positive for COVID-19 and a couple other senators are quarantining.
Parson’s comments also come against the backdrop of his decision to preach “personal responsibility” rather than lead with statewide action, leaving gathering limits and mask mandates to local health departments as more than 7,000 Missourians have died from COVID-19.
The state also ranked dead last when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccination distributed and administered at the beginning of the week, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite the drumbeat of “personal responsibility” plan for handling the pandemic, Parson and his wife, Teresa, both contracted COVID-19 in September.
During Wednesday’s speech, Parson said his policy priorities for the upcoming year are in line with what he's emphasized in the past: improving workforce development, education and infrastructure throughout the state.
His budget proposal includes about $3.6 billion in core funding for public K-12 schools, which would meet minimum recommendations set in state law.
Parson also asked lawmakers to restore primary funding for public four-year colleges to pre-pandemic levels. He cut state funding for those schools when the coronavirus first struck and began tanking the state economy.
Parson's administration also said they're planning to spend about $1.9 billion to expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to more low-income adults as called for by voters last year. The expansion is mostly funded by the federal government, and the net cost in state revenue is estimated to be closer to $120 million next fiscal year.
Parson repeated his call for lawmakers to pass a law to shield hospitals, manufacturers and other businesses from being sued over providing less-than-ideal services during the pandemic.