JEFFERSON CITY — In a session already marred by uncertainty about COVID-19 and vaccine rollout, Gov. Mike Parson used his State of the State to reemphasize his dedication to education funding, infrastructure and public health.
The speech, initially planned to take place in the House chamber, was switched to the Senate chamber last minute. Officials said the switch was made with safety in mind after several senators tested positive for the virus because the Senate chamber’s seats are more spread out. House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said the last-minute change caused confusion in the chamber, and she wasn’t sure if she still had an assigned seat to watch the speech.
Despite the technical difficulties, Parson used the speech to praise the state’s handling of the pandemic.
“We have worked nonstop to take a balanced approach, fight the virus and keep Missourians as safe as possible,” he said.
The governor pointed out that Missouri was one of the first states in the country to submit its COVID-19 vaccine plan and said the state has now administered nearly 400,000 doses. Despite being among the first states to submit a plan, however, Missouri’s vaccine rollout is the slowest in the nation. Thus far, only 4.5% of Missouri’s population has been vaccinated, according to The New York Times.
Quade said she was disappointed in the lack of discussion on specific COVID-related policies and investment in pandemic relief.
“With as much talk as the governor had about workforce development, which of course we support, we would like to see more investment and conversation from him around COVID,” Quade said.
Specifically, she said she would have liked to see better coordination of the vaccine rollout discussed and further support for small businesses through grants.
“The bottom line is that we have been working day in and out to fight COVID-19, while also dealing with civil unrest, violent crime and a difficult budget,” Parson said.
The governor expressed optimism that the legislature would send a COVID-19 liability lawsuit bill to his desk shortly. The bill was discussed last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee and intends to protect businesses and organizations in the state from COVID-19 liability lawsuits, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Parson also called for a $4 million investment to support telehealth and telemedicine in the state, amid an increase in demand for the services during COVID-19. Similarly, he asked for $20 million for 50 new community mental health and substance abuse advocates and new stabilization centers in the state. Parson said that Medicaid coverage will expand to an additional 275,000 people in the state.
Parson said his administration will continue investing in K-12 education and assessing the impact of virtual learning on students.
“Though we may not understand these impacts for some time, it is important that we test and adjust education accordingly to help all students succeed,” Parson said.
He said he intends to expand Career Ready 101, a program that helps high school students prepare for the workforce. Parson also asked for an increase of more than $13 million for A+ scholarship for college students.
Included in the year’s budget proposal was a $10 million request for airport infrastructure. In his speech, Parson also called on the House to approve a $100 million one-time expenditure for clearing the backlog of maintenance projects for buildings and facilities and $25 million to fund the transportation cost-share program.
Parson ended the speech by recognizing health care workers, law enforcement employees, teachers and farmers, as well as “all Missourians who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.”