Legislative Watch: Containing the Impact of the Pandemic

COVID-19 has already hit state and local government hard, and it’s still spreading at a time when it had been predicted to recede. Legislators are trying to keep up with the consequences with a range of new bills.

Crystal Parks, founder of the Diaper Bank for Northeast Florida. New Jersey has introduced a bill supporting diaper banks. {Photo: Crystal Parks)
On March 13, the Trump administration declared a national emergency to open the door to federal aid in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. By March 26, America led the world in confirmed cases.

On April 20, Georgia became the first state to end its shelter-in-place order. Others followed, despite the fact that cases were trending up in many states that relaxed their guidelines. 

Nearly 3,000 bills have been introduced since February to address the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. They have addressed issues ranging from workers compensation and debt forgiveness to hazard benefits for first responders and telemedicine. 

As the timeline for returning to business as usual continues to slip into the future, new issues arise that require the attention of legislators. Here are some of the more than 60 proposals put forth by legislators since the beginning of July:

New Jersey AR179 calls attention to the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit effort to provide diapers to low-income families and seniors. The need for diapers has increased 400 percent in some communities, while availability has decreased due to panic buying and supply chain interruptions. The resolution asks that future federal funding for COVID-19 relief include money that can be used for grants to diaper banks.

LR350, in Nebraska, calls for a study examining the use of telehealth during the pandemic. This would include a review of regulations that have been adjusted to facilitate telehealth services during the health emergency, costs and insurance reimbursement structure, licensing and privacy protections. 

SF55, a Minnesota bill, appropriates funds for grants to support supplemental school bus transportation. The one-time appropriation is intended to enable school bus services to comply with social distancing and public health requirements.

Michigan SB1013 reflects the new world of K-12 education, expanding the meanings of the words “attendance” and “instruction” in light of pandemic realities. “Attendance” is defined as student engagement in instruction directed by a certified teacher or other individual teaching in conformity with state law, with the objective of leading students to mastery of academic standards. “Instruction” may be provided at a school or other location, online, digitally or by other remote means. The bill also sets out guidelines for the student assessments required to receive state aid, including procedures to be followed if in-person instruction is not resumed.

SCR-93, in California, seeks to declare the state of emergency proclaimed by the state’s governor to be at an end. The purpose is to end emergency powers that the governor gained as a result of the proclamation and to restore balance between legislative and executive branches. The legislation notes that local governments have the ability to declare local emergencies in order to obtain state aid and to protect public health in their communities. 

New Jersey S2634 would establish general immunity against legal action relating to damages associated with the coronavirus pandemic for businesses, governments, institutions of higher learning, nonprofit organizations and their officers, employees and agents. This protection includes instances in which a person contracts the virus on a business property, either as a visitor or employee. Such immunity does not extend to entities that cause damage by “willful, wanton or grossly negligent” acts of commission or omission.

Even in normal times, youth who age out of foster care are at risk of becoming homeless. S8843 in New York aims to prevent this during the economic and public health turmoil resulting from the pandemic. It places a temporary moratorium on youth aging out of the system and allows youth who have been discharged from care to return to placement without having to file a motion to return.

Powered by Quorum. Note: Map will update automatically as new bills are filed.

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 carl.smith@governing.com or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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