Missouri House renovation work delayed with call for special session

Russ Alberts drills holes in the concrete in order to fasten a clamp to the feet of the desks that have temporarily been set up in the Missouri House of Representatives for the beginning of a special session. The chamber is undergoing a major renovation so temporary accommodations have been made so legislators have a place from which to work while in session. Working in the background is Craig Reinkemeyer who typically works in the House post office but is helping out with the project so it can be ready when the bell rings Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

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

Renovations to the House chamber will not be complete when legislators return to the state Capitol on Sept. 6 for a special legislative session focused on tax cuts and agricultural tax credits. The renovation work has been put on hold until after the session concludes.

"We anticipate what we call contingencies, and this is a contingency," said Dana Rademan Miller, chief clerk and House administrator. "And so we're just rolling with it."

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

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

"I would hope so," he said. "The last we were notified, that was supposed to be done by the end of August."

Renovations include restoring each of the 163 House member desks, installing a new wool carpet and putting up new electronic voting boards in the House chamber. The Senate chamber is also scheduled to get new carpet and restored desks before the next regular legislative session in January.

Miller said delays coupled with an already "tight and ambitious" schedule set back the renovation, originally slated to be complete before the Sept. 14 veto session.

The carpet to be installed in the House chamber was delayed by two weeks, she said, which then set the installation schedule back.

"So we made a decision, especially with this extraordinary session that's been called, we made the call to just go ahead and have the chamber ready to go on the 6th of September, versus the two weeks out," Miller said.

The carpet will not be installed when legislators return, she said, so folding tables with laptops are stationed on the bare concrete House floor.

All 163 member desks, which are more than 100 years old, are refurbished but can't be installed until the carpet goes in first, Miller said.

"We tried to keep the seating pattern as close to the floor assigned seating as possible but it's going to 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 desk using the roll call system that we have in place."

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

Renovation plans called for new electronic voting boards -- the large displays that broadcast votes in the chamber -- to be installed before the veto session, Miller said, but the call for a special session put that work on hold.

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

That reduced timeframe and the uncertainty of how long the special session will last moved the installation of the boards to 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 done before the deadline so renovation work can be completed before the next regular legislative session in January.

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said he doesn't perceive any challenges with the temporary arrangements in the House chamber.

"We have our job that we have to do and I think any challenges we've got, I think we can overcome those," he said. "I think that we've shown that we're resilient in that issue, especially with what we had to go through with COVID. We made it work then, and I'm convinced we can do the same thing now."

Miller said House leadership was determined to meet in the chamber for the special session, as opposed to somewhere off site.

She said she doesn't think the governor's call for a special session complicated renovation work, but changed the time frame.

"It just was a delay," she said. "We're creating a little more of a delay because we had to stop any installation work that might've been happening and then clean everything up, clean the site up, and then put some temporary seating in."

Staff completed the work in a couple of days, she added.

Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for the governor, said special sessions are normally scheduled to be close to the veto session and the upcoming session was planned in collaboration with House and Senate leadership.

"Our legislative team and the governor and our chief of staff have been speaking with leadership from the Senate and the House for weeks," she said. "So if (renovation work) was going to be a issue or if that was a concern of theirs, I'm sure they brought it up."

  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Legislators' desks are lined in the third floor hallway outside of the Missouri House of Representatives chamber while work is underway. The large, open room is undergoing a major renovation requiring all of the furniture to be removed.
  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Boxes containing tri-fold name tags await distribution to tables temporarily placed in the Missouri House Chamber in preparation for the special session called by Gov. Mike Parson.