Lawmakers Deal With Latest COVID Surge: Legislative Watch

State legislatures have introduced more than 300 bills since October to deal with a litany of COVID-related problems, including ICU funding, liability shields, reauthorization of electronic public meetings and more.

People wait in long line of cars to receive a COVID test.
With the pandemic surging again, cars line up for COVID-19 testing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
In the last two weeks, COVID-19 deaths have gone up 38 percent, and hospitalizations 48 percent. The average number of cases is twice that at the earlier height of the pandemic. New mandates for curfews and masks are being announced. Stay-at-home orders and lockdowns are again on the table. Twelve states have already tightened COVID-19 restrictions.

A vaccine could be available to most Americans by spring. It’s unknown what might appear on the road between now and then. Election controversy has proved to be a distraction at the federal level. The new administration has formed its own task force, but to date there’s been little interest in facilitating a transition or any sort of cooperative effort with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team between now and January.

More than 4,000 bills addressing some aspect of the pandemic have been introduced so far this year, with more than 300 since October. Recent bills reflect the wide range of real-world challenges and changes that the pandemic has brought to already-crowded state and local government agendas.

in Missouri would establish that health-care providers deployed by the state during a declared state of emergency will not be liable for civil damages or administrative sanctions related to the delivery, or non-delivery, of health-care necessitated by the emergency. This protection would not apply in instances of malicious misconduct or intentional damage, but the bill states that “indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others” would not be considered to be misconduct.

Ohio HB789 extends the time period during which public bodies have authority to meet via electronic technology through June 30, 2021. Members who appear by means of video, teleconference or similar technology will be considered present, will be allowed to vote and will be counted to establish the presence of a quorum. The public is to be notified of any hearing which they would ordinarily be allowed to attend in person, and provided access to electronic meetings.

HB6314 in Michigan sets out guidelines for the issuance of emergency orders by the Department of Health to control an epidemic related to the coronavirus. It allows a local health department to issue a health order that is different from, but not more restrictive than, such an order if certain conditions are met. These include thresholds for such things as number of confirmed cases, percentage of positive tests and current surge capacity of hospitals in the area. It also calls for the development of a Web resource for health-care providers with details regarding COVID-19 testing sites and a public resource with detailed information about cases, testing, deaths, recoveries, available PPE, hospital occupancy and much more.

in Pennsylvania addresses a discrepancy between the number of COVID-19-related deaths reported by the state’s Department of Health and the number reported by coroners in the state, inconsistencies in reporting of deaths from nursing homes and practices for reporting positive cases. It calls for the House Budget and Finance Committee to audit the data collection systems used by the Department of Health and to report on anomalies in its reporting.

Mississippi SB3055 establishes the Mississippi ICU Infrastructure Act. It calls for the transfer of $10 million to a fund that would help hospitals increase treatment capacity for COVID-19 patients. No grant to a hospital may be greater than 25 percent of this fund, and 20 percent of it is to go to those that are Level III or IV Trauma Centers. Funds are for facility expansion only, and are not to be used for staff or administrative expenses.

HB96, a Louisiana bill, relates to a pandemic electronic benefit transfer program for students who have benefited from free or reduced school meal programs. It asks schools to share basic information about such students with the Department of Children and Family Services so that benefits can be issued, except in cases where the parent or legal guardian of the student has stated that they do not want such information to be shared.

New Jersey
ACR195 honors the life and work of Dr. Anthony Fauci, citing his professional accomplishments, including contributions to more than 1,300 scientific papers as well as major textbooks, 45 honorary doctoral degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. It notes that over more than 50 years at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he has contributed to basic and clinical research on infectious diseases, and helped create programs that have saved millions of lives. 

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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.