A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, July 27-31, 2020

Although the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020, it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. In subsequent months, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened July 27-31, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here

Monday, July 27, 2020

  • Travel restrictions:
    • As part of Phase Two of D.C.’s reopening plan, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) ordered non-essential travelers from high-risk states to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the city. Bowser defined “high-risk states” as areas where the seven-day moving average of daily new COVID-19 case rate was 10 or more per 100,000 persons.
  • Election changes:
    • West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) announced that all voters “concerned about their health and safety because of COVID-19” would be eligible to vote absentee in the Nov. 3 general election.
    • Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election by six days. Originally scheduled to begin on Oct. 19, the proclamation moved early voting to Oct. 13.
  • Mask requirements:
    • Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s (R) face-covering order went into effect. The order required anyone eight or older to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces, commercial businesses, transportation services, and in outdoor public spaces when social distancing is not possible. He issued the order on July 24.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education signed an agreement with the state’s teachers unions to reduce the length of the 2020-2021 school year from 180 days to 170 days.
  • State court changes:
    • The Idaho Supreme Court delayed the resumption of criminal jury trials until Sept. 14 and civil jury trials until Dec. 1.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) closed bars and limited restaurant capacity to 25% for two weeks. Beshear also asked schools to avoid reopening for in-person instruction until the third week of August. 
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Illinois, Kentucky Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico had been added to the joint travel advisory, bringing the number of states on the list to 37.
  • Election changes:
    • U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire Judge Joseph Laplante ordered that nomination petition signature requirements for the Libertarian Party’s candidates in New Hampshire’s general election be reduced by 35 percent. In his ruling, Laplante said he reduced the signature requirements because the risk of contracting COVID-19 and Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) stay-at-home order imposed a burden on the Libertarian Party’s right to access the ballot.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) announced that schools would not reopen until Sept. 8, when school districts could decide whether to return students to physical classrooms or offer distance learning. 
    • Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) ordered all K-12 students and staff to wear a mask in school at all times. The directive also imposed social distancing guidelines of three feet for preschools through middle schools, and six feet for high schools.
    • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced metrics that would guide school reopening decisions. Brown said counties must have 10 or fewer coronavirus cases per 100,000 people and a 7-day positivity rate of 5% or less for three consecutive weeks before in-person and hybrid instruction could resume. Brown also said the state must have a positivity rate of 5% or less for three consecutive weeks before any in-person or hybrid instruction could resume.
    • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) released guidelines for reopening schools. The recommendations covered testing and contact tracing, immunizations, and resources necessary for returning students to classrooms or teaching remotely.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) extended Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan through August 28. Raimondo also reduced gathering limits from 25 people to 15.
    • Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) announced that he was extending three public health orders passed on June 15 that deal with limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and school reopenings. The order continued to limit indoor gatherings to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 250 people. The school reopening order included a modification requiring teachers and students to wear masks indoors and outdoors at school when social distancing wasn’t feasible.
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued a travel advisory asking Maryland residents to refrain from traveling to Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas, where the percentage of positive test results was over 10%. Hogan urged people who had traveled to those states to get a coronavirus test.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) modified her Safer At Home Order to require students in second grade or higher to wear masks at school.

Friday, July 31, 2020 

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an executive order placing restrictions on several counties in northern Michigan. The restrictions included capping indoor gatherings at 10 people and closing bars that derived more than 70% of their revenue from the sale of alcohol.
  • Election changes:
    • U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island Judge Mary McElroy approved a consent agreement reached by the parties in Common Cause Rhode Island v. Gorbea. Rhode Island officials agreed not to enforce witness or notary requirements for mail-in ballots in both the September 8 primary and November general elections.
    • Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) announced that the state would provide prepaid return postage for all mail-in and absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 general election.
    • Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) signed HB6002 into law, allowing voters to cite concern over COVID-19 as a reason for voting by absentee ballot in the November 3 general election.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • The Maine Department of Education released guidance for reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance required all staff and students age five and older to wear masks.
    • South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced masks would be required in all public school facilities for staff and students in grades 2-12.

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

Oregon state Rep. Gary Leif dies

Oregon state Rep. Gary Leif (R) died on July 22, creating a vacancy in the state legislature.

County commissioners from Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties had originally appointed Leif to the legislature on April 30, 2018, replacing former Rep. Dallas Heard (R) upon Heard’s appointment to the Oregon Senate. Leif defeated Charles Lee (D) to win re-election to the state House in 2020, 72% to 28%. Before his appointment to the legislature, Leif served as a county commissioner in Douglas County.  

If there is a vacancy in the Oregon House, the board of county commissioners representing the vacant district must select a replacement. The board must consider three candidates who are members of the party that last controlled the district and must select a replacement within 30 days. The new representative will serve the remainder of Leif’s term, which expires in January 2023.

As of July 26, three vacancies have occurred in the Oregon House during 2021. On a national level, there have been 67 state legislative vacancies in 35 states this year. Forty-seven of those vacancies have been filled.

Additional reading: 

Missouri Supreme Court upholds Medicaid expansion amendment

On July 22, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a constitutional amendment enacting Medicaid expansion was constitutional. The decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that found the amendment approved by voters last August to be unconstitutional because it did not include a revenue source for the state to pay for the Medicaid expansion. The Supreme Court ruled that the amendment “does not remove the General Assembly’s discretion in appropriating money to MO HealthNet,” and therefore, “the circuit court erred in declaring article IV, section 36(c) constitutionally invalid.”

The Supreme Court concluded that the Department of Social Services and Missouri HealthNet, who are responsible for the administration of Medicaid in Missouri, are required to use the funds appropriated by the legislature on all eligible recipients under the adopted amendment. The amendment, which was approved by a margin of 53.27% to 46.73%, expanded Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to adults that are 19 years of age or older and younger than 65 whose income is 138% of the federal poverty level or below under the Affordable Care Act.

Stephanie Doyle, Melinda Hille, and Autumn Stultz—three individuals who qualify for Medicaid under the expanded eligibility—filed the lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court. On June 23, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional because it did not include a way for the state to pay for the Medicaid expansion. He wrote, “If the court allows them to spend other state revenues by initiative such action would deprive the General Assembly of its constitutional right to appropriate revenues in all other non-initiative circumstances.”

Amy Blouin of the Missouri Budget Project said, “As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Missourians across the state will finally be able to realize the health and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion. State after state has shown that in addition to providing insurance to those eligible, expansion is a fiscal and economic boon to state economies and budgets.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman (R), who opposed the amendment, said, “The legal gymnastics employed by the court to get their desired political outcome sets a dangerous precedent and greatly diminishes the power of Missourians’ elected representatives.”

Since the Supreme Court has upheld Medicaid expansion, the state must file paperwork with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to set up the enrollment process for newly eligible individuals. Governor Mike Parson (R) previously withdrew the state’s paperwork in May after the state legislature passed the state’s budget without expanding funding for Medicaid.

The amendment faced legal challenges before the vote last August. In May 2020, two separate lawsuits were filed against Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) challenging the constitutionality of the citizen-initiated ballot measure by Americans for Prosperity-Missouri and United for Missouri. Both lawsuits argued that the initiative was unconstitutional because it appropriated state funds without creating a new source of revenue. In June 2020, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled in favor of the initiative keeping it on the ballot. Judge Green argued that the ballot measure does not require the state legislature to appropriate money for Medicaid expansion, and therefore, it does not need to provide a funding source. Missouri Western District Court of Appeals upheld Judge Green’s decision to keep the initiative on the August ballot after United for Missouri and Americans for Prosperity-Missouri appealed the decision.

Missouri joins 38 states and Washington, D.C., in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Special primary elections to be held on August 3 in Michigan State Senate Districts 8 and 28

The special primary elections for Michigan State Senate District 8 and 28 are on Aug. 3. The major party candidate filing deadline passed on April 20, and the filing deadline for minor party and independent candidates is Aug. 4. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 2.

District 8

In the Democratic primary, John Bill and Martin Genter are competing to advance to the general election. In the Republican primary, Mary Berlingieri, Bill Carver, Kristi Dean, Grant Golasa, Pamela Hornberger, Terence Mekoski, and Douglas Wozniak are competing to advance to the general election.

Andrew Kamal is running as an independent in the general election.

The special election for District 8 was called after Peter Lucido (R) left office after being elected Macomb County Prosecutor on Nov. 3, 2020. The seat has been vacant since Lucido resigned on Dec. 31. Lucido had served since 2019. 

District 28

Keith Courtade and Gidget Groendyk are competing in the Democratic primary to advance to the general election. In the Republican primary, Tommy Brann, Kevin Green, and Mark Huizenga are competing to advance to the general election.

The special election for District 28 was called after Peter MacGregor (R) left office after being elected Kent County Treasurer on Nov. 3, 2020. The seat has been vacant since MacGregor resigned on Dec. 31. MacGregor had served since 2015.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 20-16 majority in the Michigan State Senate. Michigan has a divided government, and no political party holds astate government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. 

As of July 2021, 46 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 18 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Since 2010, Michigan has held 16 state legislative special elections. 

Additional reading:

The latest redistricting news from New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin

In this week’s Redistricting Review, we cover news out of New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

New Jersey: On July 20,New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner asked Democrats and Republicans to reconvene and pick a consensus candidate for the 13th member of the state’s congressional redistricting commission.

According to state law, the majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the state legislature and the chair of the state’s two major political parties appoint the first 12 members of the congressional redistricting commission. The 12 commissioners then appoint the last commission member. If they cannot agree on an appointment, the commissioners must submit two names to the New Jersey Supreme Court and the court must then appoint the final commissioner.

Last week, when the commissioners could not reach a consensus by their July 15th deadline, they submitted former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., and former Superior Court Judge Marina Corodemus to the court. According to the New Jersey Globe, “This is the first time the two parties haven’t agreed on a 13th member for congressional redistricting. The Supreme Court option wasn’t involved in 1991, 2001 and 2011.”

Chief Justice Rabner gave the commissioners until July 30th to respond with a consensus candidate. If they do not, the New Jersey Supreme Court will pick a tiebreaker candidate by August 10th.

New Mexico: The New Mexico Redistricting Committee’s new website launched last week. The website includes information on how to participate in committee meetings and a portal for submitting public comments or maps. It can be accessed here.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Supreme Court temporarily halted a lower court ruling blocking Republican legislators from hiring private attorneys with taxpayer funds. On July 15, the court unanimously agreed to take up the case, and in a 4-3 decision ordered that Republican lawmakers be allowed to hire private attorneys pending their decision.

Additional reading:

New Jersey state Sen. Chris Brown resigns to take new role in Murphy administration

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) appointed state Sen. Chris Brown (R) to a position in the Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services on July 19. The position required Brown to leave the state Senate. Brown started his new job on July 20.

Brown first won election to the Senate to represent District 2 on Nov. 7, 2017, defeating incumbent Colin Bell (D) 53.52% to 46.48%. Brown had announced in February that he would not seek re-election.

Vacancies in the New Jersey Legislature are filled by interim appointment by the county leadership of the party that last controlled the district. 

The New Jersey Senate is the upper chamber of the state legislature. Currently, there are 25 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and one vacancy in the Senate.

Additional reading:

Governor Brian Kemp appoints new state supreme court justice, public service commissioner

Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to the Georgia Supreme Court and Fitz Johnson to the Georgia Public Service Commission on July 20 and 21, respectively. Colvin will fill the vacancy left by Justice Harold Melton, who retired on July 1 of this year, while Johnson will take former Commissioner Chuck Eaton’s position. Governor Kemp appointed Eaton to the Fulton County Superior Court on July 20. 

Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. The current chief of the court is David Nahmias. As of July 2021, Republican governors appointed seven judges (eight once Colvin is sworn in) on the court and one was initially selected in a nonpartisan election. Judges are selected using the nonpartisan election of judges system. They serve six-year terms. When an interim vacancy occurs, the seat is filled using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection with the governor picking the interim justice from a slate provided by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. 

The Georgia Public Service Commission is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative state body responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities: electric, gas, telecommunications, and transportation firms. The commission is composed of five popularly elected members who serve staggered, six-year terms. If a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson must win election in November 2022 to serve the remainder of Eaton’s term, which expires in 2024.

Additional reading: 

$15 per hour minimum wage initiative qualifies for November ballot in Tucson, Arizona

On July 22, 2021, the Tucson City Clerk confirmed that enough signatures were submitted for an initiative backed by Tucson Fight for $15 to qualify for the November 2 ballot.

On July 2, Tucson Fight for $15, the campaign behind a local minimum wage increase, submitted 29,526 raw signatures to the city’s clerk office.

In Tucson, Arizona, petitioners needed to submit 14,826 valid signatures by July 2, 2021, to qualify for the November 2021 ballot. The signature requirement was based on 15% of the votes cast for mayoral candidates in the previous mayoral election. After signatures are certified for an initiative in Tucson, the measure goes before the city council. The city council has two options: approve the initiative, precluding an election, or send the initiative to the ballot.

The initiative would amend the city code to incrementally increase the city’s minimum wage from $12.15 (the state’s minimum wage) to $15 by January 1, 2025, and increase it every January thereafter by the rate of inflation rounded to the nearest multiple of $0.05. The minimum wage would increase by the following increments:

  1. $13 by April 1, 2022,
  2. $13.50 by January 1, 2023,
  3. $14.25 by January 1, 2024, and
  4. $15.00 by January 1, 2025.

The initiative would also establish a Department of Labor Standards by April 1, 2022. The department would be authorized to receive complaints from employees, investigate employers, and educate workers about their rights under the initiative. A violation of the initiative would be a civil infraction with a civil penalty of up to $100 per employee affected by the violation paid to the city. If multiple violations occur, the city may revoke, suspend, or decline to renew any licenses of the employer.

Tucson Fight for $15 filed the initiative on February 27, 2021. Billy Peard, the co-author and co-organizer of Tucson Fight for $15, said, “Tucson’s has one of the fastest-growing rents and housing costs in the country. Tucson is the second poorest city in the southwestern United States, as measured by per capita income. There’s simply no way that a family, or even an individual without children, can pay a one-bedroom apartment these days on the current minimum wage of $12.15.”

Tucson Business Owners Inc. is leading the campaign in opposition to the measure. Carlos Ruiz, owner of HT Metals in Tucson and a member of Tucson Business Owners, said the initiative is more than just about raising the minimum wage to $15. He said, “Interested parties can initiate actions against businesses and if successful those interested parties get 30% of the fines and penalties that are assessed against that business. And the city of Tucson gets 70% of the fines. So there’s an incentive for outside parties becoming activists to go after employers in the city of Tucson.”

In 2016, Arizona passed Proposition 206, which increased the minimum wage to $10 in 2017, and then incrementally to $12 by 2020, and created a right to paid sick time off from employment. It was approved by a margin of 58.33% to 41.67%.

Signature deadlines approaching for Colorado 2021 initiatives

Four initiatives targeting the November 2 ballot in Colorado were approved for signature gathering. The deadline for signature submission to qualify for the 2021 ballot is August 2. Colorado also has deadlines specific to each initiative since initiatives can be circulated for no more than six months. Details about the four initiatives are below:

Custodial Fund Appropriations Initiative:

This initiative, which would amend the state constitution and state law, would transfer the power to appropriate custodial funds (state revenue not generated through taxes) from the state treasurer to the state legislature. Examples of such funds include pension funds and court-approved settlement funds. The measure defines custodial money as money received by the state that (1) originated from a source other than the State of Colorado, (b) was awarded or provided to the state for a particular purpose, and (c) that the state is acting as a custodian or trustee to carry out the purpose for which the funds were provided.

The Committee for Spending Transparency is leading the campaign in support of the initiative and reported $1 million in contributions from Unite for Colorado.

To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures must be submitted by August 2, 2021. Constitutional amendments in Colorado require a 55% supermajority vote to be ratified and added to the state constitution. This requirement was added by Amendment 71 of 2016.

Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program and Marijuana Sales Tax Increase Initiative:

This initiative would amend state law to create the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program to provide out-of-school learning opportunities for children aged 5 to 17 in subjects including math, science, reading, writing, music, art, career education, and specialized support for those with special needs. The measure would increase the marijuana retail sales tax by 5% to partially fund the program. The initiative would result in a state revenue increase of $137,600,000 annually.

Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids (LEAP 4 Co) is leading the campaign in support of the initiative. The committee reported $948,270 in contributions, with all but $20 coming from Gary Community Investment Company.

Coloradans Against School Vouchers registered as an issue committee to oppose the initiative. The committee had not yet reported campaign finance activity. To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures must be submitted by August 2, 2021.

Reduce Property Tax Rates and Retain $25 Million in TABOR Surplus Revenue Initiative:

This initiative would amend state law to reduce the residential and non-residential property tax rates and authorize the state to retain and spend $25 million in revenue above the state’s TABOR spending cap, which it would otherwise be required to refund to taxpayers. Each version differs regarding how the $25 million in retained revenue could be spent. Suzanne Taheri and Michael Fields of Colorado Rising Action filed the initiative.

Cut Property Taxes registered as an issue committee to support the initiative and reported $750,000.00 in contributions from Unite for Colorado. To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures must be submitted by August 2, 2021.

State Income Tax Rate Reduction Initiative:

This initiative, sponsored by Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, would amend state law to decrease the state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.40%. Ballotpedia did not identify issue committees registered to support or oppose the measure. To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures must be submitted by October 29, 2021.

The initiative campaign committees with campaign finance activity surrounding the three measures with contributions reported a combined total of $2.7 million in contributions from two donors. The committees reported a combined total of $2.14 million in expenditures.

From 2016 through 2020, successful initiative petition drives cost an average of about $850,000, ranging from volunteer efforts to $2.2 million.

Measures that can go on the statewide ballot in Colorado during odd years are limited to topics that concern taxes or state fiscal matters arising under TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (Section 20 of Article X of the Colorado Constitution). This requirement was added to state statute in 1994. Measures that can go on odd-year election ballots include measures proposing new taxes, tax increases, an extension of taxes, tax policy changes resulting in a net tax revenue gain, changes to revenue or fiscal obligations, delays in voting on ballot issues, and approval for the state to retain and spend state revenues that otherwise would be refunded for exceeding an estimate included in the ballot information booklet.

The last time an initiative appeared on an odd-year ballot in Colorado was 2013. The measure, which was defeated, would have changed Colorado’s flat personal income tax rate to a graduated income rate with increased rates. At least $10.4 million was raised in support of the initiative.

In 2020, eight initiatives appeared on the ballot in Colorado. Campaigns supporting the measures received an average of $3.36 million in support contributions and $2.49 million in opposition contributions. Campaigns supporting and opposing the eight initiatives on the 2020 ballot reported a combined total of $46.8 million in contributions.

Initiative to repeal Michigan law granting governor emergency powers heads to state legislature

The Michigan State Legislature approved the indirect initiative that repealed the Emergency Powers of Governor Act. On July 15, 2021, the Michigan State Senate voted 20-15 to approve the initiated measure. Senate Republicans voted to pass the initiated measure, and Senate Democrats voted against the proposal. On July 21, 2021, the Michigan House of Representatives voted 60-48 to approve the initiated measure. House Republicans, along with four House Democrats, supported the proposal. The remaining 48 House Democrats opposed the initiated measure. The governor cannot veto the legislature’s approval of an indirect citizen-initiated measure.