As part of Ballotpedia’s coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, we are compiling a daily summary of major changes in the world of politics, government, and elections happening each day. Here is the summary of changes for April 17, 2020.
Debate over government responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
Yesterday, President Donald Trump (R) released new federal guidelines for re-opening state and regional economies. The full text of those guidelines can be accessed here. Today, we turn our attention to some of the initial responses to these guidelines.
- Henry Olsen, writing for The Washington Post, said, “It will be months before American life feels normal again. Trump’s plan gives us a path to that time and should ensure that public health is the primary consideration as we begin our national recuperation. Regardless of how one feels about the president, we should all be thankful his team has struck the right balance.”
- Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Cathy Zhang, and Connor Boyle, writing for The New York Times, said, “The plan is a failure when it comes to testing, which everyone recognizes as a linchpin in any effort to reopen the country. It certainly assumes that testing will occur: A key metric for each phase of reopening is the trend in coronavirus cases. Accordingly, within a 14-day period there needs to be a ‘downward trajectory’ of either documented cases or the percent of positive tests. But there is no requirement that states first show that they have tested enough people to establish that the trajectories they are seeing are truly reflective of population-level trends.”
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) said, “We will obviously use [the federal guidelines] as a baseline. Doesn’t mean that Florida is going to do everything they say and not say. That’s a pretty good baseline.”
- North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said, “Yesterday I laid out what’s required for North Carolina’s path to gradual reopening, and it’s good the White House has shared similar guidance, but we still need the federal government to help with testing and personal protective equipment.”
The 1918 influenza pandemic
The 1918 midterm elections occurred during the 1918 flu pandemic, one of the most severe in history. Each day, we’ll look back at a story from the 1918 elections to see how America met the challenges of holding elections during a national health emergency.
On November 1, 1918, the Oakland Tribune published an article titled, “Good Vote In County Seen Despite Flu”
“The announcement that the influenza epidemic is on the wane is good news to citizens generally, and particularly to candidates for county office-who feared that if conditions did not improve the [election] Tuesday would be the lightest ever cast in a State and county election. According to physicians, there is no danger in going to the polls as long as the voters are masked, which is now compulsory under ordinances of Eastbay cities.”
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced he had named Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) to the five-member congressional panel overseeing the implementation of the third coronavirus relief package. Hill is just the second member named to the group so far. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) selected Bharat Ramamurti last week. Still remaining to be picked are nominees by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Pelosi and McConnell must also jointly pick the panel’s fifth member.
- Twenty states and one territory have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- Ten states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
- Twenty-two states have made modifications to their voting procedures.
- Political parties in 17 states have adjusted party events on a statewide basis.
Ballot measure changes
- Ballotpedia tracked 20 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
- Five states changed ballot measure procedures.
- At least five lawsuits seeking court orders suspending or changing requirements and deadlines.
State legislative responses
- To date, 548 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- Eighty-seven significant bills have been enacted into law, 16 percent of the total number that have been introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.
State legislative session changes
- Twenty-five state legislatures had suspended their sessions. Four of those had since reconvened.
- Seventeen legislatures had either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
- Four state legislatures were in regular session.
- Three state legislatures (Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin) were in special session.
- One state (Minnesota) had partially suspended legislative activity.
- Utah – The Utah State Legislature convened a special session on April 16.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide.
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.
Prison inmate responses
- Sixteen states ordered the release of inmates at the state level.
- Fifteen states ordered the release of inmates on the local level.
- Fourteen states have not released inmates due to coronavirus.
- Two states prohibited the release of certain inmate populations.
- Three states have temporarily released certain populations of inmates.
- California – Following the adoption of a new emergency bail schedule, more than 300 inmates were released from county jails in San Diego. The new emergency bail schedule was adopted by the California Judicial Council on April 6, and set bail at $0 for almost all misdemeanor and low-level felonies. The schedule will last for 90 days past the expiration of the state of emergency.
- Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine authorized the release of 105 inmates who were near the end of their sentences. The releases were approved by Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. The inmates released were nonviolent offenders with no warrants in other states or significant prison rule violations and were within 90 days of their initial release date.
- Oklahoma – On April 13, Gov. Kevin Stitt approved the release of 400 inmates to help slow the spread of coronavirus in Oklahoma prisons.
State stay-at-home orders
- Forty-three states issued statewide stay-at-home orders. Eight of those orders are set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 announced end dates.
- Indiana – Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) extended the state’s stay-at-home order, scheduled to end on April 20, to May 1.
- Mississippi – Gov. Tate Reeves (R) extended the state’s stay-at-home order, scheduled to end on April 20, to April 27.
Read more: School closures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020
- Twenty-eight states closed schools for the remainder of the academic year: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Those states account for 60.5% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country.
- All 50 states ordered a statewide school closure in some form.
- New Hampshire – Gov. Chris Sununu (R) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were closed through May 1.
- New Jersey – Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that schools would be closed until at least May 15. Prior to the announcement, schools had been under an indefinite closure since March 18.
- New York – Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 15, extending the statewide school closure.
- Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott (R) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were closed through May 4.
- Wisconsin – Gov. Tony Evers (D) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were closed through April 23.
- 19 governors or state agencies have issued an executive order restricting out-of-state travelers.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Forty states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures on either the state or local level.
- California – Los Angeles County announced a new plan to subsidize rent and expand tenant protection using emergency funding due to coronavirus. The program would provide subsidies of a maximum of $1,000 per month for families who have been economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Maine – Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order that prohibits landlords from evicting residential and commercial tenants, with the exception for tenants. The governor also announced a $5 million rental assistance program through MaineHousing to aid residents who were unable to pay rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 36 lawsuits in 22 states relating to actions or policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Rulings have been issued in eight of those lawsuits.
- Hartman v. Acton – A Columbus bridal shop filed suit against Ohio Health Director Amy Acton, arguing that her order to close nonessential businesses in the state was unconstitutional. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The plaintiff is seeking a preliminary restraining order and an injunction against Acton’s order closing nonessential businesses.
- CommCan, Inc. vs. Charlie Baker – The Suffolk County Superior Court ruled in favor of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), ruling that his stay-at-home order including recreational marijuana dispensaries as nonessential businesses was not unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argued that Baker violated their constitutional rights by closing their businesses but not liquor stores as nonessential businesses.
First Baptist Church et al v. Kelly – Two churches in Kansas filed suit against Gov. Laura Kelly (D) arguing that the governor’s order limiting the ability of churches to gather was unconstitutional. The complaint was filed in the Kansas Supreme Court. Kelly issued the executive order limiting the number of individuals that can gather in public to 10 on April 7.