Called back to Jefferson City by the governor, lawmakers met this week to work on a nearly $1.3 billion supplemental spending plan. Gov. Mike Parson called for the second special session of 2020 to work on a supplemental budget that will provide access to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, which is intended to provide additional resources to respond to COVID-19. When he called for the special session, Parson said, “COVID-19 has had an overwhelming impact on our state, and while we have made great progress, this additional funding will be critical as we continue to respond and work through the recovery process.” The spending plan, approved in the House by a bipartisan vote of 133-4 authorizes critical funding in a number of areas. The nearly $1.3 billion price tag for the bill is based on the fact the state currently has $1 billion that remains unspent from the original $2 billion allocated to the state under the CARES Act. The state also anticipates counties returning up to $300 million of the funding that was allocated to them. The state budget director told members of the House Budget Committee that the state’s plan is to spend all of the federal CARES Act funding to help Missourians as they deal with the pandemic. Of the funding allocated by the House, the largest spending item is $764 million for the state’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Other items of note in the spending plan include: • $140 million for testing, tracing, reporting and other expenses related to mitigating the virus. • $96.8 million to transfer child support debt intercepted from federal stimulus payments to custodial parents who are due the money. • $75.7 million for school food service programs that have been extended through the end of December. • $34 million for assistance to businesses/employees participating in the Shared Work Program. • $5.1 million in additional funds for ongoing long-term behavioral health effects in both adults and children caused by natural disasters in our state in 2018 and 2019. • $93 million for ongoing pharmacy expenses in the Medicaid program due to increased utilization during the pandemic. House Budget Chairman Cody Smith said, “This will keep the trains of state government running on time with some appropriation authority that has run out due to unexpected circumstances of the pandemic.” He added, “I believe this is the right approach at this time to allow flexibility for a variety of particular outcomes that might happen to make sure we get these resources out to Missourians before the end of the year when the federal guidelines tell us we have to return that money.” The supplemental spending plan now requires the Senate’s approval before moving to the governor’s desk. The Senate plans to take up the bill next week. House Approves Funding for New Witness Protection Fund During the first special session called by Parson, the legislature approved legislation meant to help protect witnesses against violent criminals. With the passage of HB 66, the House created the Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund. During the current special session, the House approved $2 million for the fund for the current 2021 fiscal year. The Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund is meant to strengthen efforts to protect witnesses so they can provide key testimony. It will allow the Department of Public Safety to disburse money from the fund to law enforcement agencies for the purposes of providing for the security of witnesses, potential witnesses, and their immediate families in criminal proceedings or investigations. The supplemental budget bill approved by the House would allocate $1 million in general revenue and $1 million in federal crime victim funding to the fund. When the bill creating the fund was passed in the House, the sponsor said, “Law enforcement agencies around the state will be able to draw from this fund and get protection for their witnesses; witnesses will come forward and tell what they saw, and maybe that will help us put violent criminals behind bars and start making some headway on violent crime in our state.” The supplemental budget bill still requires Senate approval for final passage.
Jim NeelyJim Neelydbf2231b-530b-5f67-9484-89d50942e4fe28mug_neely_jim_2017mycouriertribune.com0