The Daily Brew: How COVID-19 was impacting policy 1 year ago

Welcome to the Monday, May 10, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week
  2. Arkansas passes bill with multiple restrictions on the ballot initiative process
  3. Previewing the mayoral races in Anchorage and Omaha

Happy Monday! We hope it was a lovely Mother’s Day weekend.

COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

We continue our Monday series highlighting policy changes and events related to the coronavirus pandemic from one year ago this week. Here is a sampling of coronavirus-related policy changes and events that happened one year ago this week.

  • Federal government responses:
    • On May 15, President Donald Trump (R) announced the creation of Operation Warp Speed, an administration task force meant to help develop a coronavirus vaccine. Moncef Slaoui was named as the task force’s chief scientist, and U.S. Army General Gustave Perna was named as its chief operating officer.
  • Election changes:
    • On May 12, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) signed HF3429 into law, authorizing general election candidates to submit filing forms and petitions electronically.
    • On May 13, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R) signed into law a bill allowing any eligible South Carolina voter to request an absentee ballot for the state’s June 9, 2020, primary and subsequent runoff elections.
  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm overstepped her authority when she extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 26 on behalf of Gov. Tony Evers (D). The ruling invalidated all statewide coronavirus restrictions.  
    • The following five governors ended their state’s stay-at-home orders on May 15—Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, and Vermont. 
  • Travel restrictions
    • On May 14, Arkansas Secretary of Health Nathaniel Smith issued a 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers who have been in an international location or New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or New Orleans in the last 14 days.

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery

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Arkansas passes bill with multiple restrictions on the ballot initiative process

On April 29, a bill in Arkansas adding several restrictions to the state’s ballot initiative and veto referendum process became law. 

Senate Bill 614 included restrictions to:

  • ban paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures gathered, a payment method called pay-per-signature;
  • require circulators to be state residents and citizens; and
  • add certain offenses that disqualify a person from being a signature gatherer, including assault, battery, intimidation, threatening, sexual offenses, trespassing, vandalism, and theft (in addition to the existing list of any felony, election law violations, fraud, forgery, and identity theft).

The state House passed an amended version of the bill on April 14 by a vote of 72-18. The Senate passed it on April 22 by a vote of 27-5. In the House, 72 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and 17 Democrats and one Republican voted against it. In the Senate, 26 Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of the bill, and four Democrats and one independent voted against it. It became law after the governor’s five-day window to veto bills passed. Arkansas has a Republican state government trifecta. 

Provisions in Senate Bill 614 setting disqualifying offenses for signature gatherers and making initiative sponsors responsible for checking the backgrounds of signature gatherers will replace the state’s previous background check requirements that were overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court on March 11.

Sen. Breanne Davis (R), who sponsored SB 614, said the bill protects the integrity of the initiative process. Davis also said, “I think it’s important that we have Arkansans collecting signatures. This process is meant to be a process for Arkansans.”

David Couch, an initiative activist in Arkansas, said he would file a lawsuit seeking to overturn SB 614. Couch said the bill is an attack on the state’s citizen initiative process. Nell Matthews with the League of Women Voters of Arkansas said that SB 614 is “just another attempt to quash any efforts by the public to have a say in the governance of the state.”

The Arkansas Legislature also referred a constitutional amendment to the November 2022 ballot that would require 60% supermajority voter approval to adopt future constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.

2021 ballot measure law changes context

Ballotpedia has tracked 197 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 37 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 17 have been approved, and 20 have been defeated or have died.

Legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have approved bills to restrict the ballot initiative processes in their states.

Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include supermajority requirement increases, signature requirement and distribution requirement increases, single-subject rules, pay-per-signature bans, residency requirements and other circulator restrictions, fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.

Read on 

Previewing the mayoral races in Anchorage and Omaha

Tomorrow, we’ll be watching the mayoral races in both Anchorage, Alaska, and Omaha, Nebraska. Here’s a quick rundown of the two. Anchorage and Omaha are the 62nd and 42nd largest cities by population in the United States. Mayoral elections are taking place in 31 of the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2021.


David Bronson and Forrest Dunbar are facing each other in a runoff election after the April 6 general election, as neither candidate won more than 45% of the vote. Bronson received 33% of the vote to Dunbar’s 31%.

Incumbent Ethan Berkowitz (D) resigned from office on October 23, 2020, due to what he said was “unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required.” Austin Quinn-Davidson was selected by the Anchorage Assembly to serve as acting mayor.

Dunbar previously ran as a Democrat in 2014 to represent the At-Large Congressional District of Alaska in the U.S. House, and Planned Parenthood endorsed him for mayor. Former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska Craig Campbell (R) endorsed Bronson.

Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a central issue in the race. Dunbar said he supported maintaining safety measures enacted by the Anchorage Assembly, such as a mask mandate and business restrictions, while Bronson said that he supported reconsidering or removing restrictions. Homelessness and crime is also a key topic, with candidates divided over shelter funding and locations and prevention methods.


Incumbent Jean Stothert and RJ Neary are facing off in the general election after winning the top-two spots in the April 6 primary. Stothert is one of 26 Republican mayors across the country’s 100 largest cities. She was first elected in 2013, following Democratic control of the mayorship since 2001, and won re-election in 2017. She is Omaha’s longest-serving Republican mayor since 1906.

Neary is the chairman of Investors Realty, a commercial real estate investment company, and the former chairman of the Omaha Planning Board. During the primary, he received endorsements from the city’s three most recent Democratic mayors: Mike Fahey, Jim Suttle, and Mike Boyle.

Seven city council seats will also be on the May 11 ballot. District 3 incumbent Chris Jerram was the only city council member to not file for re-election in 2021. Five incumbents advanced past the primary election and will appear on the general election ballot. District 5 incumbent Colleen Brennan lost her re-election bid after placing fifth in the primary election.