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Checks and Balances: REINS Act reintroduced in 117th Congress

The Checks and Balances Letter delivers news and information from Ballotpedia’s Administrative State Project, including pivotal actions at the federal and state levels related to the separation of powers, due process and the rule of law.

This edition: 

In this month’s edition of Checks and Balances, we review executive orders issued by President Joe Biden (D) that rescinded executive orders related to the administrative state issued by former President Donald Trump (R). We also examine the reintroduction of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act) in the 117th Congress as well as new federal legislation aimed at strengthening the nondelegation doctrine. 

At the state level, we take a look at a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court that reaffirmed the nondelegation doctrine in the state; executive agency reorganization efforts from governors in Vermont and South Dakota; and two constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania aimed at limiting the governor’s emergency powers. 

We also highlight a new analysis that found a federal regulations-to-laws ratio of 19-to-1 in 2020. As always, we wrap up with our Regulatory Tally, which features information about the 113 proposed rules and 235 final rules added to the Federal Register in January and OIRA’s regulatory review activity.


In Washington

Biden revokes Trump executive orders on the administrative state

  • What’s the story? President Joe Biden (D) in his first days in office issued three executive orders that revoked executive orders issued by former President Donald Trump (R) related to energy regulation policy, regulatory practice, and the civil service.
  • In Executive Order 13990, Biden revoked a Trump executive order that established the Trump administration’s policy for energy regulation.
  • Biden’s E.O. 13992 revoked six Trump administration executive orders on regulatory practice. The revoked orders included the Trump administration’s 2-for-1 regulatory policy, which required agencies to eliminate two old regulations for each new regulation issued. Other revoked policies included the elimination of certain non-statutory advisory committees, a prohibition on binding agency guidance, a requirement that agencies provide the public with fair notice of regulations, and a requirement that agencies consider cost reduction efforts in administrative actions.
  • Biden’s E.O. 14003 revoked four Trump administration executive orders on the civil service. The revoked policies included the creation of a new Schedule F in the excepted service for competitive service employees who serve in policy-related roles, efforts to streamline collective bargaining activities and reduce associated taxpayer costs, and a bid to expedite removal procedures for poor-performing federal employees.
  • Want to go deeper?

REINS Act reintroduced in 117th Congress

  • What’s the story? U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on January 27 joined 24 Republican U.S. senators to reintroduce the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act), which would require Congress to approve new major rules proposed by executive branch agencies before they can be enforced. 
  • The REINS Act defines major agency regulations as those that have financial impacts on the U.S. economy of $100 million or more, increase consumer prices, or have significant harmful effects on the economy.
  • Republican lawmakers have introduced the REINS Act during every session of Congress since the 112th Congress (2011-2012).
  • Wisconsin became the first and only state to implement the REINS Act at the state level in 2017.
  • Want to go deeper?

Federal legislation aims to strengthen nondelegation doctrine

  • What’s the story? A new bill aims to prohibit Congress from delegating legislative power to other branches of government, including administrative agencies. The bill would strengthen the federal nondelegation doctrine—an administrative law principle that holds that legislative bodies cannot delegate their legislative powers to executive agencies or private entities.
  • U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced the legislation on January 28.
  • The bill would also direct the Comptroller General of the United States to issue a report to Congress detailing what the proposed legislation describes as, in its words, “the extent of the problem of unconstitutional delegation to the end that such delegations can be phased out.”
  • Want to go deeper?

In the states

Oklahoma Supreme Court decision reaffirms nondelegation doctrine

  • What’s the story? The Oklahoma Supreme Court on January 26 reconfirmed the state court’s jurisprudence in support of the nondelegation doctrine in the gambling case Treat v. Stitt.
  • Oklahoma lawmakers sued Governor Kevin Stitt (R), arguing that he had exceeded his authority when he entered into two 2020 tribal gambling compacts on behalf of the state. 
  • The Oklahoma governor’s authority to enter into tribal compacts is statutory rather than constitutional—meaning that it is delegated to the governor by the legislature through specific laws. 
  • Under the State Tribal Gaming Act, the Oklahoma governor can negotiate tribal gambling compacts within the bounds of the statute’s Model Compact. If the governor seeks to enter into a treaty that differs from the Model Compact, they must obtain approval from the legislature’s Joint Committee, which oversees agreements between tribes and the state. 
  • The court held that Stitt had unlawfully entered into the tribal gambling compacts because the compacts deviated from the bounds of the Model Compact. It also held that Stitt failed to obtain the approval of the Joint Committee for the non-standard compacts.
  • The court in July had previously held that two other tribal gambling compacts entered into by Stitt were similarly unlawful.
  • Justice James Winchester authored the case opinion. Justices Richard Darby, Yvonne Kauger, Douglas Combs, Noma Gurich, and John Reif concurred. Justices James Edmunson and Tom Colbert recused themselves from the case. John Kane dissented, claiming that the tribes should have been indispensable parties to the lawsuit.
  • Justice Dustin Rowe concurred with the result, but also argued that approval of the compacts by the Joint Committee would violate the nondelegation doctrine because the committee does not have the authority to amend Oklahoma law.
  • Want to go deeper?

Governors focus on agency reorganization 

  • What’s the story? Governors in two states have recently issued executive orders aimed at reorganizing agencies of the executive branch—with different results.
  • The Vermont House of Representatives on February 5 voted 108-40 to block Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s (R) executive order that would have established a new state law enforcement agency. 
  • Scott’s executive order, issued on January 14, would have merged all of the state’s law enforcement divisions under a newly created Agency of Public Safety.
  • Legislators argued that the proposed agency merger raised concerns about costs and agency independence that would be better addressed through the legislative process.
  • Vermont legislators previously blocked two of Scott’s executive orders aimed at reorganizing executive agencies. One of these orders—a proposal to merge the Vermont Lottery Commission and the Department of Liquor Control—was later approved via legislation.
  • In a statement following the House vote, Scott expressed appreciation for lawmakers’ interest in pursuing the reorganization plan through legislation.
  • South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) on January 19 issued a similar executive order that would restructure executive branch agencies by merging the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to form a new Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR). Noem claims that the merger will strengthen agriculture operations in the state while promoting conservation efforts.
  • The state legislature has the authority to oppose the merger, but no lawmakers had raised objections as of February 5.
  • Want to go deeper?

Pennsylvania voters will decide whether to limit governor’s emergency powers

  • What’s the story? The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on February 5 approved two constitutional amendments that will allow Pennsylvania voters to decide whether to limit the governor’s emergency powers. 
  • The Pennsylvania State Senate previously approved the constitutional amendments on January 26. Both Republican-controlled chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted to approve the constitutional amendments largely along party lines.
  • The first constitutional amendment would limit a governor’s emergency disaster declaration to 21 days and allow state legislators to extend the declaration by passing a concurrent resolution. Under the current state constitution, the governor’s emergency disaster declaration can last up to 90 days and be extended indefinitely.
  • The second constitutional amendment would authorize the General Assembly to terminate an emergency disaster without the governor’s approval. When the General Assembly passed concurrent resolutions to terminate the governor’s coronavirus-related emergency disaster last summer, the state Supreme Court ruled that gubernatorial approval was required.
  • Republican lawmakers claim that the constitutional amendments would balance the separation of powers in the state and bring emergency power closer to the hands of the people. Democratic opponents, including Governor Tom Wolf, argue that the constitutional amendments seek to usurp executive power and would slow down the state’s emergency response by requiring legislative action.
  • The constitutional amendments will appear on the May 18, 2021, primary ballot.
  • Thirty-three state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, have moved in 2021 to place limits on executive emergency authority as of February 8.
  • Want to go deeper?

____________________________________________________________________________

Study finds 19 regulations for every law passed in 2020

New analysis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) found that the number of regulations issued by federal administrative agencies outpaced on a 19-to-1 ratio the number of laws passed by Congress and enacted by the president in 2020. Congress and the president enacted 178 laws in 2020 while federal agencies issued 3,353 regulations. The same analysis found the following regulations-to-laws ratios over the past decade:

  • 2019: 28-to-1
  • 2018: 11-to-1
  • 2017: 34-to-1
  • 2016: 18-to-1
  • 2015: 30-to-1
  • 2014: 16-to-1
  • 2013: 51-to-1
  • 2012: 29-to-1
  • 2011: 47-to-1
  • 2010: 16-to-1
  • Want to go deeper
    • Click here to read the full analysis, which includes regulations-to-laws ratios dating back to 2003.

Regulatory tally

Federal Register

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)

OIRA’s January regulatory review activity included the following actions:

  • Review of 132 significant regulatory actions. 
  • Seven rules approved without changes; recommended changes to 57 proposed rules; 67 rules withdrawn; one rule subject to a statutory or judicial deadline.
  • As of February 1, 2021, OIRA’s website listed 14 regulatory actions under review.
  • Want to go deeper? 


Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 12, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

The next 72 hours

What is changing in the next 72 hours?

  • Iowa (Republican trifecta): Schools have until Feb. 15 to offer full-time in-person instruction, after Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a bill on Jan. 29 requiring schools to do so. The bill, which passed the state House and Senate with the support of all Republicans and one Democrat, allows parents to request a hybrid or all remote option for their children. Additionally, schools can request a waiver from the requirement to provide in-person instruction from the state Department of Education based on factors such as the number of teachers quarantining because of the virus.
  • Minnesota (divided government): On Friday, Feb. 12, Gov. Tim Walz (D) issued an executive order relaxing capacity restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and private gatherings beginning Saturday, Feb. 13. The new order permits restaurants to serve up to 250 people or 50% capacity, whichever is fewer, while indoor entertainment venues and gyms can serve up to 250 people or 25% capacity.
  • Nevada (Democratic trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 12, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced he would begin lifting coronavirus restrictions over a three month period beginning Feb. 15. On that day, the capacity limit on bars and restaurants will go from 25% to 35%, and the limit on private outdoor gatherings will increase from 10 to 25. Additionally, the new rules allow houses of worship, casino floors, and gyms to operate at 35% capacity. Sisolak said he would loosen restrictions again on March 15 and May 1. 
  • New York (Democratic trifecta): 
    • All adults with certain underlying conditions will be eligible for vaccination starting Feb. 15. Qualifying conditions include cancer, moderate to severe asthma, obesity, and hypertension. 
    • Indoor dining is also reopening at 25% capacity in New York City on Feb. 12.
  • Washington (Democratic trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 12, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced that five of the eight regions in Washington’s reopening plan would advance to the second phase on Sunday, Feb. 14. In the second phase, indoor dining can resume at 25% capacity, while gyms and entertainment venues, like bowling alleys, can reopen at 25% capacity. Once the changes take effect, only the South Central region, comprising six of the state’s 39 counties, will remain in the first phase. 

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Delaware (Democratic trifecta): On Feb. 12, places of worship and businesses like restaurants, gyms, and retailers are able to operate at 50% capacity. Previously, most businesses were limited to 30% capacity, and retailers larger than 100,000 square feet were limited to 20% capacity.
  • Florida (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 11, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced veterans of World War II and the Korean War are now eligible for vaccinations through the state’s program for homebound seniors. Under the program, healthcare workers make house calls to seniors who cannot leave their homes. 
  • Maryland (divided government): On Thursday, Feb. 11, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that indoor visitations at nursing homes and hospitals can resume March 1. Hospitals will set their own policies but must follow CDC guidelines. Nursing homes can allow visitors so long as they follow rules put in place for testing and there are no active cases at the facility.
  • Montana (Republican trifecta): Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) is letting the state’s face-covering requirement expire on Feb. 12. Montana is the fourth state to lift a statewide mask order. Former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued the face-covering requirement July 15, 2020. 
  • Ohio (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 11, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced that buffets and food stations within restaurants and bars can reopen with restrictions. The restrictions include a requirement that customers wear masks and social distance. 
  • Oklahoma (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 22, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) announced that school teachers and staff will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 22. Adults under 65 with certain health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, will also become eligible. 
  • Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced places of worship and theaters are allowed to expand from 25% to 40% capacity, and bar areas in restaurants can reopen, starting Feb. 12.
  • Vermont (divided government): On Feb. 12, school and youth sports leagues and games are resuming with restrictions. Teams are limited to two games a week, and parents cannot attend.


Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 11, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

The next 24 hours

What is changing in the next 24 hours?

  • Delaware (Democratic trifecta): On Feb. 12, places of worship and businesses like restaurants, gyms, and retailers will be able to operate at 50% capacity. Currently, most businesses are limited to 30% capacity, and retailers larger than 100,000 square feet are limited to 20% capacity.
  • Montana (Republican trifecta): Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) announced he will let the state’s face-covering requirement expire on Feb. 12. Montana will be the fourth state to lift a statewide mask order. Former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued the face-covering requirement July 15, 2020. 
  • New Mexico (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced the state is ending its quarantine requirements for out-of-state travelers starting Feb. 11. 
  • New York (Democratic trifecta): Indoor dining can reopen at 25% capacity in New York City starting Feb. 12. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also announced sports and events at stadiums and arenas with 10,000-person or greater capacity limits can reopen on Feb. 23. Attendance will be limited to 10% of the venue’s maximum capacity.
  • Vermont (divided government): On Feb. 12, school and youth sports leagues and games can resume with restrictions. Teams will be limited to two games a week, and parents will not be allowed to attend.

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Connecticut (Democratic trifecta): Individuals age 65 and older can register for vaccination appointments as of Feb. 11. Previously, only people age 75 and older were eligible for vaccinations.
  • Illinois (Democratic trifecta): Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) announced people age 16 and older with state-defined high-risk conditions will be eligible for vaccinations starting Feb. 25. The state’s list of qualifying conditions includes cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Indiana (Republican trifecta): On Wednesday, Feb. 10, Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver announced that residents aged 60 to 65 would be next in line for vaccination, though she did not specify when that group would become eligible. 
  • Massachusetts (divided government): On Feb. 10, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced that caregivers who accompany an individual age 75 and older to get vaccinated at a mass vaccination site can schedule their appointment on the same day, beginning Thursday, Feb. 11. Baker also announced two new mass vaccination sites in Natick and Dartmouth.
  • North Carolina (divided government): On Wednesday, Feb. 10, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced that teachers, school staff, and childcare workers will become eligible for coronavirus vaccines on Feb. 24. 
  • Oklahoma (Republican trifecta): On Wednesday, Feb. 10, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed a bill allowing public bodies, such as city councils, to meet virtually during the pandemic. A similar law was in effect through Nov. 15, 2020. 
  • Tennessee (Republican trifecta): On Wednesday, Feb. 10, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced the state would partner with Walmart to expedite the distribution of vaccines throughout the state. 

School closures and reopenings

    Read more: School responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the 2020-2021 academic year

  • Four states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.M.) and Washington, D.C. had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 7,049,065 students (13.93% of students nationwide)
  • Four states (Ark., Fla., Iowa, Texas) had state-ordered in-person instruction.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 9,180,918 students (18.15% of students nationwide)
  • One state (W.Va.) had state-ordered in-person instruction for certain grades.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 273,855 students (0.54% of students nationwide)
  • Forty-one states left decisions to schools or districts.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 34,084,021 students (67.38% of students nationwide)

Travel restrictions

    Read more: Travel restrictions issued by states in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Since the start of the pandemic, governors or state agencies in 27 states issued executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors. At least 15 of those orders have been rescinded.
  • Since Feb. 4, one state has ended its travel restrictions. 

Details:

  • New Mexico – On Feb. 10, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced the state would end its quarantine requirements for out-of-state travelers on Thursday, Feb. 11. Instead of a mandatory self-quarantine for people entering the state from high-risk areas, the state will encourage all out-of-state travelers to quarantine before getting tested.

Federal responses

Read more: Political responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • On Feb. 4, pharmaceutical and medical technology company Johnson & Johnson submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of its COVID-19 vaccine.
  • On Feb. 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an EUA to pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment, which uses a mixture of two monoclonal antibody drugs.
  • On Feb. 9, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the federal government would directly ship 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to 250 federally funded health centers around the country over the next several weeks. Zients said more doses would be shipped to more centers as supplies increase.
  • On Feb. 10, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance encouraging people to wear a mask with more than one layer after the agency found two masks reduced aerosol transmission. The CDC recommended that people wear multilayered masks that fit tightly against the face.
  • On the same day, the CDC also updated its quarantine guidance for people exposed to the virus. According to the CDC, vaccinated people who’re exposed to the virus do not need to self-quarantine, provided they completed the full dosing schedule within the last three months and are not exhibiting symptoms.


Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 10, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

The next 24 hours

What is changing in the next 24 hours?

  • Connecticut (Democratic trifecta): Individuals age 65 and older can register for vaccination appointments starting Feb. 11. Currently, only people age 75 and older are eligible for vaccinations.
  • Massachusetts (divided government): On Feb. 10, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced that caregivers who accompany an individual age 75 and older to get vaccinated at a mass vaccination site can schedule their appointment on the same day beginning Thursday, Feb. 11. Baker also announced two new mass vaccination sites in Natick and Dartmouth.

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Arizona (Republican trifecta): Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced the state is partnering with the University of Arizona to operate a vaccination site, starting Feb. 18. Registration will open on Feb. 16. At full capacity, the site will be able to distribute 6,000 vaccines daily. 
  • Indiana (Republican trifecta): On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the state House voted 69-27 to prohibit the governor from placing restrictions on houses of worship during states of emergency. Republicans hold a 71-29 majority in the chamber, and three voted against the bill. Four Democrats sided with Republicans to vote in favor of it. The bill would also prohibit local health authorities from imposing regulations that exceed those established by the state unless approved by local elected officials. The Senate will next take up the bill.       
  • Louisiana (divided government): Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) extended the state’s modified Phase 2 reopening through March 3. The modified phase limits restaurants, retailers, gyms, personal care businesses, and movie theaters to 50% capacity. Bars must close indoor service if their parish has a positivity rate greater than 5%. Bars that are permitted to open for indoor service are limited to 25% capacity. All indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to the lesser of 25% capacity or a maximum of 75 people indoors or 150 people outdoors.
  • New Hampshire (Republican trifecta): On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) announced a new partnership with Walgreens pharmacies to distribute vaccines at 34 locations.
  • North Carolina (divided government): On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the state Senate voted 29-15 to advance a bill that would require school districts to provide the option of in-person instruction for all students. Families would be able to choose remote instruction. Republicans hold a 28-22 advantage in the Senate. No Republicans opposed the bill, and one Democrat voted in favor of it. The bill now moves to the House for consideration. 
  • Oregon (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that effective Feb. 12-25, 14 counties will be in the state’s Extreme Risk level, 11 will be at High Risk, three will be at Moderate Risk, and eight will have Lower Risk restrictions. In the current period from Jan. 29 – Feb. 11, 25 counties are in the state’s Extreme Risk level, two are at High Risk, two are at Moderate Risk, and seven have Lower Risk restrictions. To see restrictions in a specific county or risk level, click here.


Transition Tracker: February 10, 2021: Garland’s confirmation hearing scheduled to begin Feb. 22

President Joe Biden (D) and his team have been preparing for the transition between presidential administrations since the election, including selecting senior White House staff and appointees to top government positions.

In 2020, there were 1,472 government positions subject to presidential appointment: 1,118 positions required Senate confirmation and 354 did not. The new administration is also responsible for filling thousands of other positions across the federal government, including in operations and policy. Every weekday, Ballotpedia is tracking potential Cabinet nominees, appointments, and news related to the Biden administration.

  • One committee hearing is scheduled Wednesday:
  • The Senate Budget Committee is holding a confirmation hearing for Neera Tanden for director of the Office of Management and Budget. This is the second of two confirmation hearings for Tanden. Read Tuesday’s edition to learn more about Tanden’s confirmation process.
  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works advanced the nomination of Michael Regan for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by a vote of 14-6 on Tuesday.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing for U.S. attorney general on February 22-23, 2021. Garland will testify on the first day, while outside witnesses will speak on the second day.

News

  • The White House said on Tuesday that the Biden administration planned to keep the U.S. embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. The Trump administration moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018.
  • Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), along with four Republican House members and the Illinois Republican Party, requested Biden allow U.S. Attorney John Lausch to continue in his role investigating public corruption charges in Illinois.
    • Biden announced on Tuesday that he was asking all Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys to resign with two exceptions.
    • The two attorneys allowed to stay on are David Weiss and John Durham, who are investigating Hunter Biden’s taxes and the FBI probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, respectively.  
  • Federal judge Drew Tipton, who sits on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, extended an order blocking Biden’s moratorium on deportations for two more weeks. Tipton was appointed by Trump in 2020.
  • The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it would continue efforts to have WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange extradited from the United Kingdom.

Transition in Context

The following chart compares the pace of Senate confirmations for the main Cabinet members—the 15 agency heads in the presidential line of succession—following the inaugurations of Presidents Donald Trump (R) and Joe Biden (D). It does not include Cabinet-rank officials that vary by administration.

Twenty days after their respective inaugurations, Trump and Biden both had six of these secretaries confirmed.

What We’re Reading



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 9, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Connecticut (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced individuals age 65 and older can register for vaccination appointments starting Feb. 11. Currently, only people age 75 and older are eligible for vaccinations. 
  • Missouri (Republican trifecta): Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced the launch of the COVID-19 Vaccine Navigator tool. Residents can register to be notified when they become eligible to receive a vaccine and schedule appointments at local vaccination sites.
  • New York (Democratic trifecta): 
    • Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced indoor dining will be able to reopen at 25% capacity in New York City starting Feb.12.
    • Cuomo also announced all adults with certain underlying conditions will be eligible for vaccination starting Feb. 15. Qualifying conditions include cancer, moderate to severe asthma, obesity, and hypertension. 
  • Texas (Republican trifecta): On Tuesday. Feb. 9, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced the Texas Rent Relief Program, which will help qualified households with rent and utility payments. The program will administer more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 funding provided to Texas. 

Lawsuits about state actions and policies

Read more: Lawsuits about state actions and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 1,649 lawsuits in 50 states dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 476 of those lawsuits. 
    • Since Feb. 2, we have added 26 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional eight court orders and/or settlements. 

Details:

  • South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom: On Feb. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California churches could resume indoor services at 25 percent capacity. The court did, however, uphold a state prohibition against singing and chanting. South Bay United Pentecostal Church alleged that California had imposed more stringent regulations on churches than secular businesses. Referencing the court’s decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, which struck down New York’s occupancy restrictions in places of worship, South Bay argued the court should intervene because the lower courts “refused to recognize Brooklyn Diocese’s ‘seismic shift’ in COVID-19 jurisprudence.” 
    • There were four separate opinions and a dissent. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch said they would strike down all challenged restrictions: “If Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.” Justice Samuel Alito said he would prefer to give California 30 days to provide evidence supporting its restrictions before striking them down. Chief Justice John Roberts, in voting to grant the church partial relief, said, “Federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.’” In her first signed opinion, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, voted to uphold the ban on singing, finding that California applies the restriction neutrally. Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented, arguing that all the challenged restrictions should be upheld.

State mask requirements

We last looked at face coverings in the Feb. 2 edition of the newsletter. Since then, Iowa’s statewide public mask mandate expired on Feb.7. Iowa is the third state to allow a face-covering requirement to expire, after Mississippi and North Dakota.

On Feb. 4, the Wisconsin State Assembly voted 52-42 on a resolution to end the statewide mask mandate and coronavirus public health emergency. In response, Gov. Tony Evers (D) immediately issued two new orders reestablishing the public health emergency and mask mandate. All Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the resolution. Republican legislative leadership is challenging the mandate in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin State Senate voted 18-13 to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) coronavirus emergency order on Jan. 26. 

Diagnosed or quarantined politicians identified by Ballotpedia

Read more: Politicians, candidates, and government officials diagnosed with or quarantined due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • Federal
    • Three federal officials have died of COVID-19.
    • Fifty-eight members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • Forty-one federal officials have quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • State
    • Eight state-level incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
    • One-hundred and ninety-four state-level incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19
    • Eighty-four state-level incumbents or candidates have quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • Local
    • At least five local incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
    • At least 43 local incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • At least 26 local incumbents or candidates have quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.

Since Feb. 2, one U.S. Representative died from COVID-19 related complications, while one U.S. Representative tested negative for the virus.  Two state senators, three state representatives, one state treasurer, one city councilmember, and one city council candidate announced positive COVID-19 test results. 

Details:

  • On Tuesday, Feb. 2, San Antonio City Councilmember Clayton Perry, who represents District 10, announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
  • On Tuesday, Feb. 2, New York City Council candidate Jessica Haller (New Leadership) announced she tested positive for COVID-19. 
  • On Thursday, Feb. 3, North Carolina state Sen. Natasha Marcus (D), who represents District 41, announced she tested positive for COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, Feb. 3, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) announced she tested negative for COVID-19 after being exposed to an infected staffer.
  • On Sunday, Feb. 7, Montana state Rep. Brian Putnam (R) announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
  • On Sunday, Feb. 7, Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg (D) announced she tested positive for COVID-19.
  • On Sunday, Feb. 7, Rep. Ronald Wright (R-Texas) died from complications related to COVID-19. Wright was the first incumbent House member to die from the virus. 
  • On Monday, Feb. 8, Florida state Sen. Jim Boyd (R) announced he tested positive for COVID-19. 
  • On Monday, Feb. 8, South Dakota state Rep. Aaron Aylward (R) announced he tested positive for COVID-19. 
  • On Monday, Feb. 8, South Dakota state Rep. Chris Karr (R) announced he tested positive for COVID-19.


Disclosure Digest: Nebraska lawmakers consider bill limiting disclosure of nonprofit donor information

Last month, we highlighted three states (Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee) considering bills that would bar public agencies from publicly disclosing identifying information about nonprofit donors. This week, we take a closer look at the Nebraska legislation. 

What the bill proposes

Nebraska LB370 would bar any public agency (including state and municipal government units and courts) from:

  • Requiring any tax-exempt nonprofit to provide a public agency with personal information. 
  • Requiring individuals to provide personal identifying information.
  • Publicly disclosing any personal information about a nonprofit donor a public agency might possess. 
  • Requiring a current or prospective contractor to provide a public agency with a list of the nonprofits the contractor has supported. 

The legislation carves out exceptions for the following situations:

  • Any report required under the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act.
  • Any report or disclosure “by a public agency regarding testimony received a public hearing conducted by such public agency.” 
  • A lawful warrant, subpoena, or other court order.
  • Any “lawful request for discovery of personal information in litigation,” if both of the following criteria are met: 
    • The person requesting the information demonstrates a “compelling need for such information by clear and convincing evidence.” 
    • The person requesting the information “obtains an order barring disclosure of such personal information to any person not named in the litigation.” 

Nebraska LB370 does not specify penalties for violations of the law, specifying only that a person alleging a violation “may be entitled to appropriate injunctive relief and damages.” 

Arguments   

There has been no media coverage of arguments for or against this bill. However, here’s what we have seen for similar bills in other states. 

In 2018, Michigan lawmakers approved SB1176, which is similar to LB370

In an op-ed for The Detroit News, Sean Parnell, vice-president of public policy for the Philanthropy Roundtable, wrote: “Michiganians are no stranger to anonymous giving, whether it’s the tens of millions of dollars given to support the Kalamazoo Promise or the numerous small anonymous gifts made through sites like GoFundMe.com. The Personal Privacy Protection Act ensures these and countless other acts of kindness can remain private if the giver wishes, while doing nothing to undermine Michigan’s laws regarding disclosure of campaign donations or punishing fraud by nonprofits. If Michigan wants to continue to encourage philanthropic giving, passage of this bill should be a priority…”

The Campaign Legal Center’s Erin Cholpak opposed the Michigan bill, writing: “While other states have been working to close loopholes that have allowed the increasing role of dark money in election campaigns, SB 1176 would codify those loopholes as enforceable law in Michigan. … And even if SB 1176 ultimately exempts campaign finance disclosure requirements from its broad disclosure ban, the bill will still make it easier for Michigan lawmakers to hide any conflicts of interest and could facilitate a rise of pay-to-play politics by shielding such arrangements from public scrutiny.”

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) vetoed SB1176. Similar legislation was also introduced last year in Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. The Utah and West Virginia bills were enacted. 

Legislative status   

Sen. Rita Sanders (R) introduced LB370 on Jan. 13. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled a hearing for March 11. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 10. 

Political context: The Nebraska Senate is the nation’s only unicameral state legislature. Although the legislature is formally nonpartisan, members affiliated with the Republican Party control a majority of seats. The governor of Nebraska is also a Republican.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 20 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Recent legislative actions

For complete information on all of the bills we are tracking, click here

  • Nebraska LB370: This bill would prohibit a public agency from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • On Feb. 4, the Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing for March 11.
  • New Hampshire HB105: This bill would require that political contributions from domestic or foreign limited liability companies be allocated to their individual members for the purposes of campaign finance reporting.  
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • The House Election Law Committee held a public hearing on Feb. 5. An executive session is scheduled for Feb. 12.
  • Rhode Island H5422: This bill would require any nonprofit that provides transportation, housing, meals, or other amenities to elected officers or candidates for elective office to report those actions as donations under the state’s campaign finance laws.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • The bill was introduced and referred to the House State Government and Elections Committee on Feb. 5.

Thank you for reading! Let us know what you think! Reply to this email with any feedback or recommendations. 



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 8, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Alabama (Republican trifecta): Individuals age 65 and older and certain frontline essential workers (including corrections officers and grocery store staff) are eligible to receive vaccinations starting Feb. 8. Previously, appointments were limited to individuals age 75 and older.
  • California (Democratic trifecta): In a Feb. 5 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held 6-3 that the state’s ban on religious services in purple-tier counties (with the strictest mitigation rules) was unconstitutional. Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. In response to the ruling, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced indoor worship services are allowed at 25% capacity in purple tier counties on Feb. 6.
  • Colorado (Democratic trifecta): 
    • Individuals age 65 and older and school staff are eligible to be vaccinated starting Feb. 8. Previously, only people age 70 and older were eligible.
    • Gov. Jared Polis (D) also announced the state started using a new framework for standardizing restrictions by county, called Dial 2.0, on Feb. 6. The framework has six color levels for counties that are based on cases-per-capita, positivity rates, and the effect of the virus on hospitals. The new system also uses data from the last week. Previously, the state used data from the last two weeks in determining county dial levels. For more information on Dial 2.0 and to see dial levels for each county, click here.
  • Indiana (Republican trifecta): New quarantine rules for schools take effect Feb. 8. The new rules allow teachers and students exposed to someone with the virus to forgo a 14-day quarantine if they were at least three feet apart and wore a face covering. 
  • Iowa (Republican trifecta): On Friday, Feb. 5, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) issued an order easing coronavirus restrictions. The order lifts the statewide mask mandate and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings. The order encourages people 65 and older to limit activities outside the home.
  • Louisiana (divided government): Individuals age 65 and older are eligible for the vaccine starting Feb. 8. Previously, appointments were limited to individuals age 70 and older.
  • Massachusetts (divided government): The state is easing some coronavirus restrictions beginning Monday, Feb. 8. The capacity limits placed on businesses like bars and gyms are increasing from 25% to 40%. 
  • Michigan (divided government): On Thursday, Feb. 4, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced she is easing restrictions on high school indoor contact sports beginning Monday, Feb. 8. The order specifies that masks must be worn during play. If students do not wear masks, they must undergo regular COVID-19 testing. 
  • Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) signed an executive order loosening coronavirus restrictions. Catered events (including wedding receptions) are limited to 30 people indoors or 50 outdoors. Restaurants can seat up to eight people from two households at an indoor table. Offices can reopen at 33% capacity.
  • South Carolina (Republican trifecta): 
    • Individuals age 65 and older are able to schedule vaccination appointments starting Feb. 8. Previously, appointments were limited to individuals age 70 and older.
    • Gov. Henry McMaster (R) extended the state’s coronavirus emergency order through Feb. 21. 
  • South Dakota (Republican trifecta): People age 75 and older are eligible for vaccination starting Feb. 8. Previously, Phase 1D only allowed people age 80 and over to receive a vaccine. 
  • Vermont (divided government): On Friday, Feb. 5, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore announced that school and youth sports leagues and games can resume Feb. 12 with restrictions. Teams will be limited to two games a week, and parents will not be allowed to attend.  
  • Virginia (Democratic trifecta): On Friday, Feb. 5, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) requested that schools provide in-person learning options for students by March 15. Northam said schools could look to the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education’s updated reopening guidance released on Jan. 15 as they prepare to return students to the classroom. Although the request is not a mandate, Northam said he expected schools to comply. 
  • Wisconsin (divided government): On Monday, Feb. 8, Gov. Tony Evers (D) announced the state was partnering with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, an international healthcare organization, to open several community vaccination sites. The first will open Feb. 16 in Rock County. Evers did not say when or where subsequent sites will be opened but said the state was planning to open between six and 10 sites. 

Additional activity

In this section, we feature examples of other federal, state, and local government activity, private industry responses, and lawsuits related to the pandemic. 

  • Congressman Ron Wright (R-Texas) died Feb. 7 due to complications from the coronavirus. He tested positive for the virus on Jan. 21. Wright was the first member of Congress to die of complications related to COVID-19.


Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 5, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

The next 72 hours

What is changing in the next 72 hours?

  • Alabama (Republican trifecta): Individuals age 65 and older and certain frontline essential workers (including corrections officers and grocery store staff) will be eligible to receive vaccinations starting Feb. 8. Currently, appointments are limited to individuals age 75 and older.
  • Colorado (Democratic trifecta): Individuals age 65 and older and school staff will be eligible to be vaccinated starting Feb. 8. Currently, only people age 70 and older are eligible.
  • Indiana (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 4, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box announced that new quarantine rules for schools will take effect Feb. 8. The new rules allow teachers and students exposed to someone with the virus to forgo a 14-day quarantine if they were at least three feet apart and wore a face covering.
  • Louisiana (divided government): Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced individuals age 65 and older will be eligible for the vaccine starting Feb. 8. Currently, appointments are limited to individuals age 70 and older.
  • Massachusetts (divided government): On Thursday, Feb. 4, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced the state would ease some coronavirus restrictions beginning Monday, Feb. 8. On that day, the capacity limits placed on businesses like bars and gyms will increase from 25% to 40%. 
  • Michigan (divided government): On Thursday, Feb. 4, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced she was easing restrictions on high school indoor contact sports beginning Monday, Feb. 7. The order specifies that masks must be worn during play. If students do not wear masks, they’re required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. 
  • South Carolina (Republican trifecta): Gov. Henry McMaster (R) announced individuals age 65 and older will be able to schedule vaccination appointments starting Feb. 8. Currently, appointments are limited to individuals age 70 and older.
  • South Dakota (Republican trifecta): On Feb. 3, the South Dakota Department of Health announced that people age 75 and older will be eligible for vaccination starting Feb. 8. Previously, Phase 1D only allowed people age 80 and over to receive a vaccine. 

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Florida (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, Jan Feb. 4, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced a new interfaith vaccine campaign that will include synagogues and Islamic centers. The state has previously held vaccine clinics at churches around the state.  
  • Nevada (Democratic trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 4, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced the Equity and Fairness Initiative, which he said “will work with Clark County Emergency Management and Southern Nevada Health District to clarify prioritization lanes, support fair access to vaccines through site selection, and equitable allocation across communities.” 
  • New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): Food and drink establishments and entertainment and recreational venues (like casinos and gyms) can increase capacity from 25% to 35%, starting Feb. 5. The order also lifts the 10 p.m. nightly indoor dining curfew, which had been in place since Nov. 12. 
  • New York (Democratic trifecta): On Feb. 3, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the Yankee Stadium mass vaccination site is beginning to administer vaccines to Bronx residents who meet the state’s Phase 1a and 1b eligibility requirements starting Feb. 5. The site will offer 15,000 appointments during the first week.
  • Utah (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, Feb. 4, Gov. Spencer Cox (R) announced that people age 65 and older will be eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines on March 1. He also announced that Utahns age 18 and older with specific, state-identified medical conditions, such as HIV or certain kinds of cancers, will also become eligible. 
  • Wisconsin (divided government): On Thursday, Feb. 4, the Wisconsin state Assembly voted 52-42 on a resolution to end the statewide mask mandate and coronavirus public health emergency. In response, Gov. Tony Evers (D) immediately issued two new orders reestablishing the public health emergency and mask mandate. All Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the resolution. The Assembly was set to vote on the resolution last week, but Speaker Robin Vos (R) postponed the vote after a memo was released that said repealing the public health emergency could jeopardize federal funding for the state’s food stamps program. To avoid that possibility, Republicans included an amendment that allows Evers to issue public health orders for the purpose of securing federal funding. The Senate planned to vote on adopting the amendment Friday, Feb. 5. 


Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: February 3, 2021

Documenting America's Path to Recovery by Ballotpedia

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Arkansas (Republican trifecta): Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced he is allowing the order requiring bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to close nightly by 11 p.m. to expire, effective Feb. 3.
  • Idaho (Republican trifecta): Gov. Brad Little (R) signed an order moving the state to Stage 3 of reopening on Feb. 2. The order increased the limit on gatherings from 10 people to 50 people or less. Religious and political gatherings are exempt from the limit but must maintain social distancing. Previously, Idaho was in Stage 2 since Nov. 13. 
  • Missouri (Republican trifecta): Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced the locations for mass vaccination events between Feb. 4-6. Parson also announced partnerships with certain hospitals to support high-volume distribution in each region. The state will select hospitals it identifies as having the capacity to administer at least 5,000 vaccines per week. 
  • Montana (Republican trifecta): Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) announced 19,500 unused doses of the vaccine will be redistributed from the federal government’s long-term care vaccination program to people in Phase 1B of the state’s plan.

Additional activity

In this section, we feature examples of other federal, state, and local government activity, private industry responses, and lawsuits related to the pandemic. 

  • On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that face coverings are required for all staff and visitors in NPS facilities and outdoors when social distancing can’t be maintained.  
  • On Tuesday, Feb. 2, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients announced the federal government would begin sending coronavirus vaccines directly to pharmacies beginning Feb. 11. The first shipment of 1 million doses will go to 6,500 locations. Pharmacies will still need to follow state vaccine distribution plans.