Jefferson City

Despite three requests, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has not answered inquiries from The Missourian about the budget cuts to its directors office and the state health lab removal from its control.

On Thursday the Missouri House of Representatives approved the budget committee recommendation to cut $925,046 and 10 full-time employees from the DHSS director’s budget for 2019 and put the State Health Lab and its $12.3 million operating budget under the control of the Department of Public Safety.

The cuts were suggested by State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, after he and State Rep. Nate Tate, R-St. Clair, were denied information they requested about human testing for the Bourbon virus conducted last summer at Meramec State Park outside Sullivan.

“We actually had a really good debate about this on the floor,” Alferman said. “The full house is now aware of this issue and it passed with a bipartisan, veto-proof (110 to 41) majority. I was not sent here by my constituents to protect bureaucrats, I was sent here to protect them. ”

Alferman added since the budget hearing March 16, there has been no contact from DHSS or the governor’s office.

The squabble between Alferman, Tate and the DHSS began when the agency declined to release Bourbon virus testing information from Meramec State Park. In June 2017 a park employee, Tamela Wilson, 58, Sullivan, died from the virus. Since then the DHSS has balked at the requests from The Missourian and legislators to divulge information about the full impact of the virus, including how many people contracted it.

After several meetings with DHSS attorneys, liaisons from Gov. Eric Greitens’ office and Speaker of the House Todd Richardson’s office, the DHSS refused to release the number of state park employees tested and if any tested positive for the potentially deadly virus.

The bill will now be taken up by the Senate, which can choose to pass it in its current form or conferences will be held on specific items.

Alferman said he is willing to speak to anyone from DHSS at any time and his door is always open.

“I think this is real to them (DHSS) now,” Alferman said. “None of this has been done flippantly and this was not a rash decision. This came after a month and a half of meetings. Now two-thirds of the House agrees with the position of the representatives from Franklin County.”

Since HB2010 is a budget bill, the Senate is expected to move quickly on the matter and it may come up for a full vote by mid-April.