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Stephanie MacGillivary

Stephanie MacGillivary is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Supreme Court of Georgia extends restrictions on in-person proceedings through June 12

On May 4, 2020, Supreme Court of Georgia Chief Justice Harold D. Melton announced that restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials would be extended through June 12.
Under the order, courts will be encouraged to develop plans for resuming nonessential court operations that can be conducted through video or phone conferencing or by maintaining social distancing measures. The order also urges judges to use technology for conducting remote proceedings as an alternative to in-person. In addition, the court announced that Chief Justice Melton will create a task force to assist courts with remote proceedings and to develop reopening plans so that in-court business can resume safely.
Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Other recent updates include:
Arizona –  Arizona’s COVID-19 Continuity of Court Operations During a Public Health Emergency Workgroup released a memo outlining recommendations for best practices to reopen or restart court operations, such as maintaining health conditions when court operations resume and local transition planning and management.
Arkansas – The Arkansas Supreme Court issued two memos, one for circuit courts and one for district courts, that provide guidance as courts return to in-person proceedings and jury trials following the coronavirus pandemic.
Kansas – The Kansas Supreme Court issued two administrative orders, one for counties with stay-at-home orders or orders closing courts and one for counties without those types of orders. For counties with stay-at-home orders, directives include performing essential court operations through video or phone conferencing to the greatest extent possible and allowing chief judges to authorize employees to telework whenever possible. For counties without stay-at-home orders or orders closing courts, directives detail what is required to resume court operations, which include allowing chief justices to determine how best to distribute personal protective equipment and recommending that hearings be conducted remotely when possible.
Michigan – The Michigan Supreme Court issued a Capacity Toolkit to help courts in the state plan to return to full operation following the coronavirus pandemic.
Minnesota – The Minnesota Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings through May 18. Jury trials are suspended until June 1.


New Mexico governor to extend stay-at-home order, with exceptions

On April 30, 2020, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced during a press conference that the state’s stay-at-home order was extended through May 15.  Prior to the announcement, the stay-at-home order was in effect through April 30.

Lujan Grisham also announced during the same press conference a few changes to her directives, effective May 1. Starting that day:
  • Nonessential retailers can operate via curbside pickup and delivery service where permitted.
  • State parks can reopen on a modified basis, but camping is still prohibited.
  • Pet services, such as grooming, veterinary care, and boarding, can resume
  • Golf courses can reopen for golf only.  Food and retail services are prohibited
  • Gun stores can reopen for background checks only

Under the order, in-restaurant dining, fitness centers, salons, theaters, and casinos are still closed. The stay-at-home remains in effect through May 15, mass gatherings are still prohibited, and a 14-day quarantine remains in effect for out-of-state travelers.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state government plans to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic. Read more here.


Minnesota governor extends stay-at-home order

On April 30, 2020, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced that the state’s stay-at-home order was extended through May 18. Prior to the announcement, the stay-at-home order was in effect through May 4.
So far, 43 of the 50 states issued statewide shutdown orders. Eight of those orders are set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 announced end dates.
Although the names of the orders—shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, stay home, stay safe—vary from state to state, they include at least two common elements: the closure of nonessential businesses and requesting all residents to stay home except for essential trips.


Utah governor places state under “moderate risk” protocols

On April 29, 2020, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (D) issued an executive order that formally placed Utah under “moderate risk” protocols, effective May 1 at 12:01 a.m., according to a press release from the governor’s office.  Under these protocols, residents are encouraged to stay home as much as possible but are allowed to see small groups of family and friends who have been adhering to social distancing and hygiene guidelines. The order also allows some businesses that were closed by public health orders, such as gyms, salons and in-restaurant dining, to resume operation under strict guidelines.



Nevada governor to extend stay-at-home order, announce reopening plans on Thursday

On April 29, 2020, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced plans to extend the state’s stay-at-home order but stated that he will lift some restrictions that the state put in place, including on outdoor activities and curbside pickup at retailers. He did not state how long the extension of the stay-at-home order would last.
Gov. Sisolak also said yesterday on Twitter that he would provide details about a plan to reopen the state after the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, April 30.
So far, 43 of the 50 states issued statewide shutdown orders. Eight of those orders are set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 announced end dates.
Although the names of the orders—shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, stay home, stay safe—vary from state to state, they include at least two common elements: the closure of nonessential businesses and requesting all residents to stay home except for essential trips.


Mississippi executive order extends eviction suspension

On April 24, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) issued executive order 1477, extending his “safer-at home” order through May 11. As part of the order, the governor extended the suspension of evictions in the state through May 11. Prior to the order, the suspension on evictions was set to expire on April 24.

Ballotpedia is tracking state and local government actions suspending or modifying evictions and home foreclosures in response to the coronavirus pandemic

To date, 40 states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures on wither the state or local level.


Federal judge orders transfer of some inmates from federal prison

On April 22, U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin for the Northern District of Ohio ordered the transfer or release of certain vulnerable inmate populations from Elkton prison, a federal prison in Ohio, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Inmates who are older with underlying health conditions are considered for transfer out of the prison through, but not limited to, compassionate release, parole or community supervision, transfer furlough, or non-transfer furlough within two weeks. Those who are deemed ineligible, but are still vulnerable, will be transferred to another Bureau of Prisons facility where measures, such as testing and social distancing, can be taken.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state and local governments are responding to the coronavirus pandemic within the prison system.

Other recent updates include:
Massachusetts – According to a new report ordered by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 637 inmates have been released from state prisons and county jails since April 5, following the courts April 3 order.



Supreme Court of Georgia holds oral argument via video conferencing

On April 20, 2020, The Supreme Court of Georgia held oral arguments via video conferencing. It is the first time in the court’s 175 year history that arguments were held virtually.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other recent updates include:
  • Colorado – The Colorado Supreme Court extended its suspension of jury trials through June
  • Hawaii – The Hawaii Supreme Court issued an order extending its suspension of jury trials through May 29 or the expiration of the state of emergency. The order also authorizes local chief judges to resume jury trials earlier.


Coronavirus daily update: April 14, 2020

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 14, 2020.
Debate over government responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
In the national debate over how to reopen the American economy, one key point involves the relative balance of power between the federal, state, and local governments. Today, we turn our attention to some of the recent arguments in this area.
  1. At yesterday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing, President Donald Trump (R) said, “The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots. If we weren’t here for the states, you would have had a problem in this country like you’ve never seen before. We were here to back them up, and we more than backed them up. We did a job that nobody ever thought was possible. It’s a decision for the president of the United States. Now, with that being said, we’re going to work with the states because it’s very important.”
  2. In an interview this morning on CNN, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said, “Certain responsibilities are state responsibilities. Health, welfare, quarantine. Those are health responsibilities. So the president should not even think of going there. That would be divisive and political and it would be totally contrary to everything we’ve been trying to do by working in a cooperative fashion. … If [Trump] ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government, and that would go into the courts.”
  3. In an interview with USA Today, Kathleen Bergin, a law professor at Cornell University, said, “It’s so plain and obvious it’s not even debatable. Trump has no authority to ease social distancing, or to open schools or private businesses. These are matters for states to decide under their power to promote public health and welfare, a power guaranteed by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.”
  4. In an interview with the Associated Press, David B. Rivkin, Jr., an attorney who served in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, said, “President Trump has authority under the Defense Production Act to compel the reopening and continued operations of various industrial and agricultural facilities and enterprises. Therefore, as a practical matter, he can reopen a large portion of the American economy.”
 
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 October 17, 1918, the Indianapolis Star published an article titled “Fall Campaign Still Hindered.” The article discussed how the pandemic affected political campaigning in the state.
The outlook last night was that the epidemic of influenza will further demoralize the plans of the Republican and Democratic state committees for speaking campaigns.  Secretary Hurty of the state board of health stated yesterday afternoon that it is probable the prohibition of all public gatherings may be extended for a week from next Monday, which is the date set by the Republicans and Democrats for opening the campaign.  Secretary Hurty will determine Friday what course shall be taken.
Federal responses
  1. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that the Senate would not reconvene until at least May 4. The Senate was originally scheduled to reconvene April 20.
  2. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a similar announcement about the House on Monday afternoon. The House was also originally scheduled to reconvene April 20.
Election changes
Overview:
  1. Twenty states and one territory have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
  2. Ten states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
  3. Twenty-one states have made modifications to their voting procedures.
  4. Political parties in 16 states have adjusted party events on a statewide basis.
Details:
  1. Mississippi – The Mississippi Republican Party has postponed its state convention, originally scheduled for May 15-16, indefinitely.
  2. South Dakota – South Dakota will mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in advance of the state’s June 2 primary election.
  3. Virginia – The Republican congressional committee of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District voted to postpone its convention, originally scheduled for April 25, indefinitely.
Ballot measure changes
Overview:
  1. Ballotpedia tracked 19 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
  2. Five states changed ballot measure procedures.
  3. At least four lawsuits have been filed seeking court orders suspending or changing ballot measure requirements and deadlines.
Details:
  1. Michigan – Steven Liedel, legal counsel for Fair and Equal Michigan, said the campaign was transitioning to gathering electronic signatures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  2. Nebraska – TRUE Nebraskans announced that it was suspending its signature-gathering efforts for the Nebraska Income Tax Credit for Paid Property Taxes Initiative.
State legislative responses
Overview:
  1. To date, 480 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
  2. Seventy-six 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
Overview:
  1. Twenty-five state legislatures have suspended their sessions. Five of those have since reconvened.
  2. Nineteen legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
  3. Four state legislatures are in regular session.
  4. One state legislature (Oklahoma) is in special session.
  5. One state (Minnesota) has partially suspended legislative activity.
State court changes
Overview:
  1. Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide.
  2. Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.
Details:
  1. Delaware – Delaware Chief Justice Collins Seitz Jr. extended court closures in the state through May 14. except for Delaware’s three Justice of the Peace courts.  The three 24-hour courts will remain open to accept bail payments for all courts and Justice of the Peace Court emergency criminal and civil filings.
  2. New York – The New York Unified Court System expanded the use of virtual court proceedings beyond essential and emergency matters, which allows the court to hear pending matters.  New nonessential fillings are prohibited.
  3. Louisiana – On April 6, the Louisiana Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials through May 4.
Prison inmate responses
Overview:
  1. Fifteen states have ordered the release of inmates at the state level.
  2. Sixteen states have ordered the release of inmates on the local level.
  3. Fourteen states have not released inmates due to coronavirus.
  4. Two states have prohibited the release of certain inmate populations.
  5. Three states have temporarily released certain populations of inmates.
Details:
  1. Washington – Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state plans to release almost 1,000 inmates early to slow the spread of coronavirus. The inmates considered for early release are those vulnerable to the disease and nonviolent offenders already scheduled to be released.
  2. Colorado – The Colorado Department of Corrections announced that 52 prisoners were granted early release last week.
  3. North Carolina – North Carolina prison officials announced that the state started to release some inmates early due to the coronavirus pandemic. The inmates considered for early release include inmates who are pregnant, inmates 65 and older with underlying health conditions, female inmates who are 50 or older with health conditions and a 2020 release date, inmates who are 65 or older and have a 2020 release date, inmates who are on home leave with a 2020 release date, and inmates on work release with a 2020 release date.
State stay-at-home orders
Overview:
  1. 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.
School closures
Overview:
  1. Twenty-two states closed schools for the remainder of the academic year: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Those states account for 43.1% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country.
  2. All 50 states ordered a statewide school closure in some form.
Details:
  1. Mississippi – Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced that schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools in the state were scheduled to remain closed through April 17.
Travel restrictions
Overview:
  1. Eighteen states issued executive orders on interstate travel restrictions.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
Overview:
  1. Thirty-three states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
Details:
  1. Texas – On Monday afternoon, the Fifth Circuit issued a per curiam ruling allowing for individuals in Texas to obtain medication abortions. The court issued the ruling after Planned Parenthood appealed its previous decision (which did not allow for medication abortions) to the Supreme Court of the United States.
  2. The initial lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas, sought to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order that banned abortions in the state as part of a broader action on elective surgeries.


Delaware extends state court closure through May 14

On April 13, 2020, Delaware Chief Judge Collins Seitz Jr. extended court closures in the state through May 14, except for Delaware’s three Justice of the Peace courts. The three 24-hour courts will remain open to accept bail payments for all courts and Justice of the Peace Court emergency criminal and civil filings.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other recent updates include:
New York – The New York Supreme Court expanded the use of virtual court proceedings beyond essential and emergency matters, which will allow courts to hear pending matters. New nonessential fillings are prohibited.