Author

Samuel Wonacott

Samuel Wonacott is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

All 50 states have active declared emergencies related to the coronavirus pandemic

All 50 states are currently operating under active states of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic, with several set to last until rescinded by the governor.
Starting in late February, governors across the country declared states of emergency as coronavirus cases climbed. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) was the first governor in the country to declare a state of emergency on February 29, and other governors soon followed. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency on March 4. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (R) declared a state of emergency on March 6. Governors continued declaring states of emergency through March and into April.
States of emergency declarations are set to expire in several states at the end of July and early August and throughout the rest of the year, while some are set to last until ended by the governor. New Mexico’s public health emergency is scheduled to expire on July 30, New Jersey’s public health emergency on August 1, Indiana’s public health emergency on August 3, and Colorado’s disaster emergency on August 5. Alabama’s and Connecticut’s are scheduled to expire on September 9, and Kansas’s is set to expire on September 15. The states of emergency declarations in Missouri and South Dakota are scheduled to last through December 30.
Generally, declaring a state of emergency allows governors to access resources unavailable to them during non-emergencies, like stockpiles of medical goods and equipment, and to waive or suspend certain rules and regulations.
According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), “Traditionally states have a general statute that permits the governor to declare a state of emergency for any type of emergency or natural disaster, which can be construed broadly to include disease epidemics and other public health emergencies. In the last decade, states have begun to refine their approaches to defining emergencies; a state may have one or more statutory definitions to define emergencies, including ’disaster, ‘emergency,’ and ‘public health emergency.’”
The laws surrounding emergency declarations vary by state. In at least 16 states, the emergencies declared in response to the coronavirus pandemic were set to last until rescinded by the governor. In other states, governors have renewed their emergency declarations every 15 to 30 days as required by law.


Virginia Supreme Court rules that Walmart must purchase electricity from Virginia Electric & Power Co.

On July 9, 2020, the Virginia State Supreme Court issued a ruling that affirmed the State Corporation Commission’s denial of Walmart’s petition to seek an alternative energy supplier to the state utility. Justice Arthur Kelsey penned the unanimous opinion of the court.

In December 2017 Walmart sought permission to buy its electricity from a non-state utility. Walmart lied on two provisions of the state utility code. Walmart first relied on the provision which grants that any customer who uses more than five megawatts may choose to exit the utility’s customer pool. Second, Walmart relied on the provision which says that a customer with multiple sites in Virginia that collectively use more than five megawatts of electricity may combine those loads and buy energy from a non-utility. The two prior provisions are governed by a provision which reads “approval of such petition is consistent with the public interest.”

After Walmart’s 2017 petition to purchase electricity outside of the state’s utility, the State Corporation Commission held a notice and comment period followed by a public evidentiary hearing.

According to the hearing records, the examiner made factual findings, including that Walmart’s petitions “would likely increase the monthly bills of remaining, non-shopping customers. VEPCO customers using 1,000 kilowatts of electricity per month would see a total increase of $0.13 in their monthly bills, and similar customers of APCO would see a total monthly increase of $0.05.” The hearing examiner concluded that “The question for the Commission is not whether the impact of granting Walmart’s Petitions is de minimis, but rather is whether granting Walmart’s Petitions will adversely affect the remaining retail customers . . . in a manner contrary to the public interest.” The commission claimed that granting Walmart’s petition would be a breach of the provision of state contracting code which asks them only to grant contracts “consistent with the public interest.”

The question that the state supreme court was asked to decide is whether or not a regulatory commission may define “the public interest” in granting petitions for exclusion from purchasing electricity from public utilities.

Walmart argued that “The public interest cannot be offended… if the adverse effect is simply recasting the marginal-cost savings enjoyed by the benefitted party into higher marginal costs to remaining customers or lost revenue to the incumbent utility.”

Justice Kelsey wrote that “Walmart’s argument is a tightly constructed syllogism, and it might be persuasive if subsection (A)(4)(a) were the only relevant statutory language informing us of the General Assembly’s intent. But it is not. Subsection (A)(4)(a) is immediately followed by subsection (A)(4)(b)’s general reference to the ‘public interest,’ and both subsections are preceded by the highly permissive ‘may’ language governing the ultimate scope of the Commission’s discretion.” Justice Kelsey went on to write “We are not tempted to repurpose ‘may’ as a polite form of ‘shall.’”

Walmart’s 140 stores across the state of Virginia will continue to purchase power from the Virginia Electric & Power Co. Walmart’s representatives have not spoken on the decision of the state supreme court.

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U.S. extends travel restrictions on Canada and Mexico through July 21

On June 16, 2020, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced the U.S. would extend travel restrictions in place at the Canadian and Mexican borders through July 21.

The restrictions, initially put into place in late March in coordination with both countries, close the borders to nonessential travel. Essential travel, including for trade and commerce, is still allowed, but traveling for tourism or recreation is prohibited. The restrictions were extended on April 20 and May 19.

In addition to travel restrictions placed on foreign countries by the federal government, Ballotpedia is tracking restrictions placed on out-of-state travelers by governors and state agencies.



U.S. Representative Tom Rice tests positive for coronavirus

On June 15, Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In a Facebook post, he said his wife and son also tested positive for the virus.
Rice has represented South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District since 2013.
Ballotpedia tracks politicians and government officials who have been diagnosed or tested for coronavirus, or become quarantined.
Rice is the sixth member of the U.S. House to test positive for the virus. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the only senator known to have tested positive.
On March 30, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) announced that she had been diagnosed with presumed coronavirus by her attending physician, although she was not tested.


Utah gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman tests positive for coronavirus

On June 10, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (R) announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Huntsman, who served as governor of the Beehive State between 2005 and 2009, is once again making a bid for the governor’s seat in Utah’s 2020 gubernatorial election.

Huntsman wrote in a tweet that he had experienced “classic symptoms.” He said he was initially given incorrect test results by the Salt Lake County Health Department before receiving the correct results.

Huntsman served as Ambassador to China under President Barack Obama (D) from 2009 to 2011, and as Ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump (R) from 2017 to 2019.

He will face off against Spencer Cox, Gregory Hughes, and Thomas Wright in the Republican primary on June 30, 2020.

Ballotpedia tracks politicians and government officials who have been diagnosed or tested for coronavirus, or become quarantined.



Judge rules that Tennessee must provide absentee ballots to all eligible voters on request

Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a judge on the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville, Tennessee, ruled on June 4 that the state must give all eligible voters the option to vote by mail in upcoming elections because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision is expected to be appealed.

In Tennessee, voters can request an absentee ballot if they meet certain requirements. For example, voters who will be outside their county during the early registration period and all day on election day and voters over the age of 60 are eligible for absentee ballots.

The Secretary of State’s office has put together a coronavirus plan for upcoming elections that focuses on sanitary measures and social distancing.

Tennessee is holding a primary on August 6. The general election is scheduled for November 3. Tennessee has a Republican state trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.



All of Virginia now operating under Phase One of reopening plan

On May 29, Northern Virginia, as well as Richmond and Accomack County, moved into Phase One of the “Forward Virginia” reopening plan, leaving no part of the state under a stay-at-home order.

The stay-at-home order ended for parts of the state on May 15, but Gov. Ralph Northam (D) delayed Northern Virginia’s entry into Phase One to give the region more time to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases. Northam also delayed the implementation of Phase One for Richmond and Accomack County after leaders requested more time to prepare for reopening.

Phase One eases restrictions on several types of businesses. Non-essential retail, for example, can reopen at 50% capacity, and restaurants and breweries with outdoor seating permits can allow 50% seating capacity outdoors. Gatherings are limited to 10 people.

Beginning May 29, face coverings are required in public indoor settings for people 10 years and older.

Stay-at-home orders have ended in 31 states. Eighteen of those states have Republican governors and 13 have Democratic governors (including Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court invalidated the stay-at-home order). Of the 12 states with active stay-at-home orders, one has a Republican governor and 11 have Democratic governors.



Delaware Governor will end travel restrictions June 1

On May 26, Gov. John Carney (D) announced that restrictions on travelers entering Delaware will expire on June 1, the same day the state is scheduled to begin the first phase of its reopening plan. Carney issued the restrictions, which require travelers who enter the state to self-quarantine for 14 days, on March 29 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The restrictions didn’t apply to people traveling through the state.

Carney also announced that both the ban on short-term rental units and the statewide stay-at-home order will expire June 1. Additionally, outdoor events with of up to 250 people will be permitted in special circumstances, so long as organizers submit a plan to the Delaware Division of Small Business at least seven days in advance.

Ballotpedia is tracking restrictions placed on out-of-state travelers by governors and state agencies.



Michigan legislature asks state Supreme Court to take up lawsuit challenging governor’s emergency powers

On Friday, May 22, Republicans in the Michigan Senate and House asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider a lawsuit filed by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) emergency declarations issued in response to the coronavirus.

A Michigan Court of Claims Judge ruled against the legislature on Thursday, May 21, but attorneys for the House and Senate asked the state’s highest court to grant the lawsuit an “emergency-bypass review” to avoid a decision from the Court of Appeals.

Gov. Whitmer has issued emergency declarations, including the state’s stay-at-home order, under two laws, one from 1976 and one from 1945. The legislature’s lawsuit challenges the Governor’s authority to issue statewide and indefinite emergency declarations under both laws. The Court of Claims ruled that Gov. Whitmer exceeded her authority under the 1976 law but not the 1945 law, and dismissed the lawsuit.


Illinois state representative tests positive for COVID-19

Illinois state representative Edgar Gonzales Jr. (D) announced in a Facebook post on May 18 that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Gonzales was appointed to represent District 21 in January, 2020, to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Celina Villanueva (D), who was appointed to the Illinois State Senate.

All Illinois legislators were tested prior to returning to work at the State Capitol. Gonzales received his positive test result two days before the General Assembly was set to reconvene. He said he was quarantining at home while he recovered.

Ballotpedia tracks politicians and government officials who have been diagnosed or tested for coronavirus, or become quarantined.

As of May 27, we have tracked:
• Six federal officials diagnosed with coronavirus, and 40 federal officials quarantined
• 32 state officials diagnosed with coronavirus, and 67 state officials quarantined



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