Missouri House renovations delayed with call for special session

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Missouri lawmakers will return to concrete floors and temporary folding tables with laptops in the House next week.

The House chamber renovations will not be complete when lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Sept. 6 for a special legislative session focused on tax cuts and farm tax credits. Renovation work was suspended until the end of the session.

“We anticipate what we call contingencies, and it is a contingency,” said Dana Rademan Miller, chief clerk and House administrator. “And so we just roll with that.”

Gov. Mike Parson announced Aug. 22 that the special session would begin the day after Labor Day.

The Republican governor was asked if the House renovations would be completed in time for the special session and whether Representatives would be able to use the chamber.

“I hope so,” he said. “Last we were told it was to be done by the end of August.”

Renovations include restoring each of the 163 House member offices, installing new woolen carpeting and installing new electronic voting boards in the House chamber. The Senate chamber is also expected to receive new carpets and restored desks before the next regular legislative session in January.

Miller said delays associated with an already “tight and ambitious” schedule delayed the renovation, which was originally scheduled to be completed before the Sept. 14 veto session.

Carpet to be installed in the Chamber’s bedroom was delayed by two weeks, she said, which subsequently delayed the installation schedule.

“So we made a decision, especially with this special session that was called, we decided to go ahead and get the chamber ready for September 6, instead of the two weeks,” Miller said.

The carpet will not be installed when lawmakers return, she said, so folding tables with laptops are placed on the bare concrete floor of the house.

The 163 members’ offices, which are over 100 years old, are being refurbished but cannot be installed until carpeting is installed first, Miller said.

“We’ve tried to keep the seating configuration as close to the floor assigned seats as possible, but it will be a little different for them,” she said. “But they will have a desk, a chair, they will have a laptop and they will be able to vote at their temporary office using the roll call system that we have in place.”

Voting will take place through the usual electronic voting system available to the House, Miller said. Manual voting takes about half an hour per vote due to the large number of House members, she added.

Renovation plans included installing new electronic voting panels — the large screens that broadcast votes in the chamber — before the veto session, Miller said, but the call for a special session put that work on hold.

With the special session beginning Sept. 6, lawmakers will use the chamber more than a week before they were originally scheduled for the veto session.

This reduced timeframe and uncertainty about the duration of the special session moved the installation of the signs potentially after the veto session, Miller said.

The Missouri Constitution sets a 60-day deadline for special sessions, putting the automatic adjournment date in early November.

Miller said she remains hopeful the legislative work will be completed before the deadline so the renovations can be completed before the next regular legislative session in January.

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said he sees no challenge with the temporary arrangements in the House chamber.

“We have our job to do and I think any challenges we have I think we can overcome,” he said. “I think we’ve shown that we’re resilient to this issue, especially with what we’ve had to go through with COVID. We made it work then, and I’m confident we can do the same. now.”

Miller said House leaders were committed to meeting in the chamber for the special session, rather than somewhere offsite.

She said she doesn’t think the governor’s call for a special session complicated the renovations, but did change the schedule.

“It was just a delay,” she said. “We are creating a little more backlog because we had to stop any installation work that might have happened, then clean everything up, clean up the site, then install temporary seating.”

Staff completed the job within days, she added.

Kelli Jones, the governor’s spokeswoman, said special sessions are normally scheduled to be close to the veto session and the next session was planned in conjunction with House and Senate leaders.

“Our legislative team, the governor and our chief of staff have been talking to Senate and House leaders for weeks,” she said. “So if (the renovations) were to be an issue or if it was a concern for them, I’m sure they spoke about it.”

Julie Smith/News Tribune Photo: Legislators’ desks are lined in the third floor hallway outside the chamber of the Missouri House of Representatives as construction is underway. The large open room is undergoing a major renovation requiring the removal of all furniture.
Photo Photo by Julie Smith/News Tribune: Boxes containing trifold name tags wait to be distributed to tables placed temporarily in the Missouri house bedroom in preparation for the special session called by Governor Mike Parson.
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