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Battleground districts in Virginia’s House of Delegates elections

Elections for the Virginia House of Delegates are taking place on Nov. 2, 2021. Ballotpedia has identified 22 of the 100 races as battlegrounds. Sixteen battlegrounds are elections for seats currently held by Democrats while the other six are for Republican-held seats. Based on analysis of these districts’ electoral histories, these races have the potential to be more competitive than other races and could possibly lead to shifts in a chamber’s partisan balance.

To determine state legislative battleground races in 2021, Ballotpedia looked for races that fit one or more of the four factors listed below:

  1. In the last state legislative election, the winner received less than 55% of the vote.
  2. The presidential candidate who won the district in 2020 is of a different party than the most recent state legislative election winner in the district, and the most recent state legislative election winner won by a margin of 10 percentage points or less.
  3. The presidential candidate who won the district in 2020 is of a different party than the most recent state legislative election winner in the district, and the incumbent is not on the ballot this year.
  4. The presidential candidate who won the district in 2020 is of a different party than the most recent state legislative election winner in the district, and that presidential candidate won the district by a margin of 20 percentage points or more.

In 2019, Democrats won control of the chamber with a 55-45 majority. Twenty-nine races (29% of the chamber) were decided by margins of 10% or smaller, and six of the 100 seats up (6% of the chamber) changed partisan control, passing from Republican to Democratic control. Republicans need to gain six seats to win control of the chamber in 2021. Democrats need to hold at least 51 seats to maintain their majority.

The outcome of these elections, in addition to the state’s 2021 gubernatorial election, will determine Virginia’s trifecta status. Virginia became a Democratic trifecta in 2019 for the first time since 1994. If Republicans win control of the House or the governorship, they will break Democrats’ trifecta control of the state.

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Economy and Society: SEC proposes rule increasing proxy disclosures

Economy and Society is Ballotpedia’s weekly review of the developments in corporate activism; corporate political engagement; and the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) trends and events that characterize the growing intersection between business and politics.

ESG Developments This Week

In Washington, D.C.

The SEC pushes on proxy disclosures 

On Wednesday, September 29, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a rule that would require large asset managers to provide greater disclosure and transparency on how they vote the proxies associated with the funds they manage. The Wall Street Journal had the details:

“The Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a rule that would require money managers to disclose more information on how they use their voting power.

When investors buy a mutual fund and exchange-traded fund from an asset manager, the money manager votes on shareholder proposals on behalf of the investors. Shareholder votes extend to issues from executive compensation to a company’s efforts to address climate change.

The SEC proposal on Wednesday targets funds that manage trillions of dollars for investors. It follows a years-long concern among some SEC officials that current disclosures make it difficult for individual investors to see how asset managers cast shareholder votes on their behalf….

The popularity of index funds fueled the rise of a small group of money managers in the last decade. This has given firms such as BlackRock Inc., BLK 0.24% Vanguard Group and State Street Global Advisors enormous sway over corporate affairs that appear on proxies, including pay for top executives, board appointments and acquisitions. A 2019 study found that the three firms collectively cast an average of about 25% of the votes at S&P 500 companies.”

Eight days later, BlackRock, the largest asset management firm in the world, with nearly $10 trillion in assets under management, made its own news regarding proxy votes, appearing to accept the SEC’s characterization of the need for transparency:

“Investment giant BlackRock Inc. BLK 0.24% is giving institutional investors such as pensions and endowments the option to cast shareholder votes tied to their investments.

When investors buy a fund from an asset manager, the money manager typically votes on shareholder proposals on behalf of the investors.

Starting in 2022, BlackRock says its large investors can vote themselves on everything from who sits on boards to executive pay to what companies should disclose on greenhouse gas emissions. The change allows those BlackRock clients to lay claim to voting power on some $2 trillion in investments tied to index-tracking assets BlackRock manages in institutional accounts. This is about 40% of roughly $4.8 trillion of indexed equities managed by BlackRock.

“We believe clients should, where possible, have more choices as to how they participate in voting their index holdings,” BlackRock said in a client note on Thursday announcing the changes….

BlackRock said that it is “committed to exploring all options to expand proxy voting choice to even more investors.” That includes individual investors in exchange-traded funds and index mutual funds.”

Rubio continues ESG pushback

A week after introducing legislation pushing back against ESG, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asking it to clarify several ESG matters. Specifically, Senator Rubio wanted the SEC to explain how ESG rules will affect American business in its dealings with China. He wrote:

“[P]revious positions taken by the Commission indicate that the consistent application of its policies to the PRC is not guaranteed,” Rubio wrote. “In recent years, the Commission has created arbitrary exceptions to its general rules for activities in the PRC.

For example, a standard purporting to provide information about issuers’ relevant ‘social’ businesses practices that required the disclosure of ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ practices with respect to their workforces in the United States, but not the complicity of those same issuers in supporting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s many human rights abuses within the PRC or globally would be, at the very least, highly inconsistent and arbitrary….

[Consider] [w]hether China-based issuers or issuers with significant business in the PRC should require the representation or information about the representation of underrepresented ethnic or religious groups historically oppressed by the CCP, including Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim groups, Tibetans, Christians, and practitioners of Falun Gong, among others.

If the level of ‘investor demand’ for an ESG disclosure for business activity in the U.S. is diminished for substantially similar, or even more substantial activities in the PRC, it may indicate that the disclosure is not primarily about providing beneficial and consistent information to investors about that activity, but instead is an arbitrary attempt to influence issuers on certain domestic political affairs….”

According to a press release, Senator Rubio also “argued that the SEC should consider how to consistently apply its standards to supply chain resiliency and investor protection” to China, especially in light of what it described as “the hoarding of medical supplies by [China] during the COVID-19 pandemic….”

On Wall Street and in the private sector

ESG opponent highlights ESG ratings confusion on Fox News

Independent Wall Street analyst, anti-ESG activist, and author Stephen Soukup appeared on both Fox News’sTucker Carlson Tonight,” and Fox Nation’sTucker Carlson Today” to discuss his book The Dictatorship of Woke Capital. Among other things, Soukup discussed ESG and what he considers one of its greatest perils, the confusion over ESG ratings, an assessment shared among some of ESG’s most outspoken proponents. He argued that the ratings are inconsistent, are often contradictory, and can be manipulated for purposes other than promoting shareholder-focused goals. In the end, he argued, “ESG can mean anything you want it to mean,” or, conversely, can be selectively applied for personal, political, or cultural reasons.

Soukup raised the issue of Elon Musk and Tesla, which, he said, would appear to most outsiders to be an ESG no-brainer investment, a company that is on the cutting edge of trying to eradicate the need for the internal combustion engine. He argued, however, that Tesla’s ESG’s ratings are inconsistent and are often negative, not because of its business practices but because of its reporting practices, which many ratings services consider insufficient. 

Meanwhile, over at Morningstar, Michael Jantzi, the founder of Sustainalytics, a division of Morningstar and one of the best known and most prominent ESG ratings services, insists that there is no reason for anyone to be worried that the perceived diversity in ESG ratings signals a chaotic and exploitable business environment. Indeed, he insists that this diversity is proof that the opposite is true, that the ESG movement is, in his view, maturing and robust:

“This [criticisms] is an indication of a maturing and increasingly robust industry. There’s a lot of nuance, particularly on the institutional side of the business, looking at the challenges of integration across asset classes.

Constructive criticism in anything makes you better….

[T]he diversity of ratings is a sign of a healthy market. It reflects that there are a variety of approaches–some, like Sustainalytics’ ESG Risk Ratings, measure risk, other focus on impact, while others look only at reputation or market sentiment, for example. Different starting points lead to different outcomes, so the market has choice. That’s a good thing from my perspective. I often wonder if the critics of ESG ratings are also the ones complaining loudly about the fact that credit ratings and sell side ratings are too aligned?

As for emojis–they instantly convey a direction or how someone is feeling about something, so in a sense there is some similarity to ESG ratings. But the criticism reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ESG Risk Rating is. It’s not meant to be a single indicator or a single tool to make a decision. It’s meant to be used alongside other tools and inputs to inform the user about whether or not this is a company you might want to consider investing in or engaging with. It’s a starting point to what lies beneath.”

In the spotlight

“We don’t have patience much longer for these disclosures to be forthcoming. We are increasingly seeing the impacts of climate change not only across our portfolios but also across the global economy….[T]his was the year that we really started to take more concerted action based on what companies were providing us…. Where we felt that companies were falling short for a variety of ESG issues, we were more inclined to support those [shareholder] proposals this year.”



A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, October 5-9, 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. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened October 5-9, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here

Monday, October 5, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Massachusetts cities and towns designated as lower risk on the state’s community spread map advanced to Step 2 of Phase 3 of the reopening plan. In that stage, indoor entertainment businesses like roller rinks and trampoline parks could reopen, and indoor and outdoor performance venues could operate at up to 50% capacity. Additionally, gyms, libraries, and museums were permitted to operate at 50% capacity.
  • The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued an emergency public health order replacing many coronavirus restrictions the Michigan Supreme Court struck down on Oct. 2, including limits on gatherings and a mask requirement. The court ruled that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) emergency orders were based on an unconstitutional law called the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945.
  • West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) issued an executive order allowing live outdoor music performances to resume so long as crowds were restricted to 25% capacity or 250 individuals, whichever is less. He permitted indoor live music performances which were streamed across the internet without crowds to resume.   

Election changes:

  • The United States Supreme Court reinstated South Carolina’s witness signature requirement for absentee/mail-in ballots.
  • Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) announced that counties would be allowed to offer multiple drop-off options for returning absentee/mail-in ballots. LaRose said that these options would be restricted to one site per county.
  • Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson issued an order allowing Iowa counties to send voters absentee/mail-in ballot applications with pre-filled personal information.
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona Judge Steven Logan ordered that Arizona’s voter registration deadline be extended to 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

School closures and reopenings:

  • Pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade students in Florida’s Miami-Dade Public School district returned to classrooms. Students in higher grades were returned to classrooms later in the week. The Miami-Dade Public School district is the largest district in Florida and the fourth largest in the country.

State court changes:

  • Delaware courts advanced into a modified Phase 3 of reopening, allowing jury trials to resume. Phase 3 also allowed courts to operate at 75% capacity and increased the number of people allowed in a courtroom to 50.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) eased coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, businesses, and youth sports. The new rules allowed theaters in counties in Phase 2 of reopening to operate at 25% capacity and theaters in Phase 3 of reopening to operate at 50% capacity. Additionally, restaurants in Phase 2 counties were allowed to sit up to six people together at a table, while restaurants in Phase 3 were allowed up to eight.
  • Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm issued an order limiting indoor gatherings to 25% capacity. Colleges, schools, churches, polling locations, rallies, and outdoor venues were exempt from the order. 

Election changes:

  • The Iowa Supreme Court stayed a state court’s order that had allowed county election officials to send pre-filled absentee/mail-in ballot request forms to voters.
  • Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee (R) announced that the state’s voter registration deadline would be extended to 7 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2020.

Thursday, October 8, 2020 

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Connecticut moved into the third phase of reopening, which allowed businesses like restaurants and barbershops to operate at 75% capacity. Outdoor event venues (like amphitheaters and racetracks) and indoor performing arts venues were allowed to operate at 50% capacity. 

Election changes:

  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Judge Dan Aaron Polster ordered Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to allow counties to install absentee/mail-in ballot drop boxes at locations other than election board offices.
  • A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit voted 2-1 to stay a lower court order extending registration and absentee/mail-in ballot return deadlines in Wisconsin.

Eviction and foreclosure policies:

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) extended the statewide moratorium on evictions through Dec. 31. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) modified restrictions to allow gatherings of up to 7,500 people in large outdoor venues or 3,750 in indoor venues.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced new restrictions on areas of New York City where coronavirus cases were rising. In areas designated as red zones, state-defined non-essential businesses were required to close, religious gatherings were limited to 10 people, and restaurants could only offer takeout service.
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order allowing movie theaters and other indoor entertainment venues to reopen. Capacity at those venues was capped at 20 people per 1,000 square feet. 

Election changes:

  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Judge Robert Pitman blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) directive restricting the number of absentee/mail-in ballot return locations to one per county.
  • A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed a district court’s order directing Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to allow counties to install absentee/mail-in ballot drop boxes at locations other than election board offices. As a result, LaRose’s initial order limiting drop boxes to one site per county was reinstated.
  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri Judge Brian C. Wimes issued an order requiring Missouri election authorities to accept mail-in ballots returned in person. However, on Oct. 10, 2020, Wimes stayed his order pending appeal, leaving the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by mail in place.

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.



Candidates set for Iowa House 29 special election

Candidates interested in running in the special election for Iowa House of Representatives District 29 had until Sept. 28 to file. The general election is scheduled for Oct. 12. 

The Democratic candidate is Steve Mullan, and the Republican candidate is Jon Dunwell.

The special election was called after Wesley Breckenridge (D) resigned to take a job with the Iowa Law Enforcement Agency on Sept. 10. Breckenridge served from 2017 to 2021. Breckenridge defeated Dunwell for the House 29 seat in the 2020 election. 

As of Sept. 30, this will mark the third special election for the Iowa State Legislature in 2021. A special election for Senate District 41 was held on Jan. 26. Adrian Dickey (R) defeated Mary Stewart (D). The seat became vacant after Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) resigned to assume a seat on the U.S. House of Representatives. On the Sept. 14, Mike Bousselot (R) defeated Andrea Phillips (D) in the House District 37 special election. The seat became vacant after John Landon (R) died in July 2021.

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Signatures filed for veto referendums to repeal Arizona income tax bills

The campaign Invest in Arizona filed signatures on Sept. 28, 2021, for two veto referendums aimed at overturning bills designed to change income tax brackets and small business income taxes in Arizona. Both of the bills would impact tax revenue associated with Proposition 208, an initiative passed in 2020. Proposition 208 enacted a 3.5% income tax surcharge, in addition to the existing income tax (4.5% in 2020), on income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). 

One of the targeted bills, Senate Bill 1828, would reduce the state’s income tax brackets from four to two and further reduce the tax brackets to a flat rate when state revenue exceeds $12.976 billion. The other bill, Senate Bill 1783, would replace the individual income tax that certain small business owners file with a new small business income tax.

With signatures filed for the veto referendums, both of the bills are suspended until the secretary of state determines if enough signatures are valid to qualify the measures for the ballot. If enough signatures are found to be valid, the targeted bill would remain suspended until voters decide the issue at the November 2022 general election. If not enough valid signatures were filed, the targeted bill would go into effect. 

More signatures were filed for the referendum against SB 1828 than SB 1783. Invest in Arizona reported filing more than 215,000 signatures for the SB 1828 referendum. It reported filing about 123,500 signatures for the SB 1783 referendum. At least 118,823 signatures need to be valid.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Associated, said, “Today’s filing is an effort to stop another one of the Governor’s reckless attempts to hand out money to the wealthy while disregarding the will of [Arizona] voters or the impact on our public schools.” Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, responded, “The teachers union and an out of state interest group hired hundreds of paid circulators to go around the state lying to Arizona voters about the tax cuts passed by the state legislature.”

Invest in Arizona filed a veto referendum against a third bill, Senate Bill 1827, but it did not collect enough signatures for that proposal. SB 1827 was designed to cap the maximum combined individual income tax rate at 4.5%.

The Arizona Legislature passed all three of the bills in June 2021, and Gov. Doug Ducey (D) signed them. Votes were along party lines, with Republicans supporting the bills and Democrats opposing them.

Arizonans last voted on a veto referendum in 2018, when a majority voted to repeal a bill expanding the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program to make all public school students eligible to apply for an ESA. Since Arizona adopted a referendum process in 1911, voters have decided 35 veto referendums. Voters upheld 19 bills and rejected 16 bills. 

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A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, Sept. 21-25, 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. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened Sept. 21-25, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here.  

Monday, Sept. 21, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • In Texas, several types of businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, and office buildings, in 19 out of the state’s 22 hospital regions were allowed to expand operating capacity to 75%. 

Travel restrictions:

  • North Dakota Interim State Health Officer Dr. Paul Mariani announced that North Dakotans traveling internationally were no longer required to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

Election changes:

  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin Judge William M. Conley issued an order extending the absentee/mail-in ballot receipt deadline in Wisconsin to Nov. 9 for ballots postmarked on or before Election Day.

Federal government responses:

  • In an update on travel restrictions on military installations, the Department of Defense announced that pandemic travel restrictions had been lifted on 51% of installations around the world.

Mask requirements:

  • Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Development Commissioner Beth Bye announced that children age three and older were required to wear face masks at daycares and preschools.

State court changes:

  • In South Carolina, state courts were allowed to resume normal scheduling and in-person hearings.
  • In New Jersey, courts in the state were allowed to resume jury trials.

Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • California Health and Human Services Director Mark Ghaly announced Riverside, Alameda, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, and Solano counties could move from purple into the red phase of reopening. Ghaly also said El Dorado, Lassen, and Nevada counties could move into the orange phase, and Mariposa County could enter the yellow phase.  

School closures and reopenings:

  • The Miami-Dade County Public Schools board voted to return students to in-class instruction. Prekindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, and students with special needs would return on Oct. 14. All others would return on Oct. 21. Families could opt for virtual learning. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest district in the United States.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) announced he was changing the risk level designation for 15 counties. Burgum reduced the risk level for three counties, moving them from green to blue on the state’s five-tiered risk-level system while increasing the risk level for the other 12.

Travel restrictions:

  • Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced that Massachusetts travelers entering Maine would no longer be required to test negative or quarantine for 14 days.
  • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) added Colorado, Oregon, and Rhode Island to the list of high-risk states. Travelers from high-risk states were required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New Mexico. 

Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020 

Election changes:

  • A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit voted 2-1 to stay a lower court decision suspending South Carolina’s witness requirement for absentee/mail-in ballots in the general election. As a result, the witness requirement was reinstated.

Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that Florida would enter Phase 3 of reopening effective immediately, allowing bars and restaurants to operate at full capacity. The order overrode local ordinances unless cities could justify bar or restaurant closures on health or economic grounds.

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



A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, Sept. 7-11, 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. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened Sept. 7-11, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here

Monday, Sept. 7, 2020

Eviction and foreclosure policies:

  • Virginia’s statewide evictions moratorium expired. On the same day, the Virginia Supreme Court declined to grant Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) request to extend it. 

Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that conditions in Amador, Orange, Placer, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties had improved enough to move them into Phase Two of the state’s four-phase reopening plan. Indoor dining at restaurants, in-person religious services, and operation of movie theaters resumed at 25% capacity. 

Election changes:

  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Judge Orlando Garcia ordered Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs to advise all local election officials that it was unconstitutional to reject an absentee ballot due to a perceived signature mismatch unless the voter is given pre-rejection notice of this finding and a “meaningful opportunity to cure his or her ballot’s rejection.”
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he would sign an executive order providing for the installation of absentee ballot return drop boxes at more than 300 locations statewide.

School closures and reopenings:

  • Several of Connecticut’s largest school districts reopened to in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year. Schools were allowed to reopen beginning Aug. 31, but many districts delayed their start until after Labor Day.

Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an order allowing gyms, bowling alleys, swimming pools, and other similar businesses to reopen at 25% capacity.

Election changes:

  • U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee Judge Eli Richardson temporarily suspended a Tennessee law requiring first-time voters to vote in person.

Federal government responses:

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development ended its coronavirus pandemic task force. An official for the agency, which had helped distribute aid to other countries, including ventilators, said other bureaus and divisions would assume the task force’s responsibilities.

Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order moving the Hampton Roads area of Virginia back to Phase Three of reopening. Northam reimposed restrictions on Hampton Roads on July 28 following a spike in coronavirus cases.

Election changes:

  • U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona Judge Douglas Rayes ordered Arizona election officials to give voters until 5:00 p.m. on the fifth business day after an election to sign their vote-by-mail ballot envelopes if they failed to sign at the time they submitted the ballots.

Federal government responses:

  • Sept. 10 was the deadline for states to apply for additional unemployment insurance funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Lost Wages Assistance program. President Donald Trump (R) authorized FEMA to use disaster relief funds to supplement state unemployment insurance programs.

School closures and reopenings:

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, temporarily blocked restrictions on in-person learning at public and private schools in Dane County. The court agreed to hear legal challenges raised by several private schools. Because of the injunction, all schools in Dane County could reopen to in-person instruction.

Friday, Sept. 11, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) moved the state into Phase Three of reopening. In Phase Three, bars were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity with a maximum of 50 people if their parish’s COVID-19 positivity rate remained at or below 5% for 14 days. Restaurants, churches, salons, spas, and gyms were also allowed to expand capacity to 75%.

Election changes:

  • Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) announced her office would send absentee/mail-in ballot applications to all active registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Ohio’s Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Stephen L. McIntosh enjoined Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) from rejecting absentee ballot applications submitted via fax or email.

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



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery #296: September 7, 2021

Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery. Today we look at:

  • Changes in coronavirus restrictions in Nevada
  • An extended vaccine incentive initiative in Wisconsin
  • Vaccine distribution
  • Lawsuits about state actions and policies 
  • State-level mask requirements
  • COVID-19 emergency health orders

We are committed to keeping you updated on everything from mask requirements to vaccine-related policies. We will keep you abreast of major developments—especially those affecting your daily life. Want to know what we covered Thursday? Click here.

Since our last edition

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

Colorado (Democratic trifecta):

  • On Sept. 4, Gov. Jared Polis (D) extended a coronavirus executive order that gives tenants with pending applications for rental assistance 30 days to make late rent payments.
  • On Sept. 2, Polis (D) announced that primary care providers can receive grant funding to support coronavirus vaccination efforts. Polis also announced a testing incentive program for students in Colorado. Students who have opted in to the testing program can receive a $25 gift card for their first coronavirus test, and a $10 gift card for each subsequent test.

Connecticut (Democratic trifecta): On Sept. 3, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) extended the full vaccination deadline for staff in long-term care facilities to Sept. 27. The original deadline was Sept. 7.

Illinois (Democratic trifecta): On Sept. 3, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) extended the first dose vaccination deadline for healthcare workers, teachers, and school staff to Sept. 19. The original deadline was Sept. 5.

Kentucky (divided government): On Sept. 7, a special session of the Kentucky State Legislature began to discuss the extension of the state’s coronavirus state of emergency, the governor’s authority to issue indoor mask requirements, and other coronavirus-related issues. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) called the session on Sept. 4.

Maine (Democratic trifecta): On Sept. 2, Gov. Janet Mills (D) extended the full vaccination deadline for healthcare workers to Oct. 29. The previous deadline was Oct. 2.

Nevada (Democratic trifecta): On Thursday, Sept. 2, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) issued an order allowing conventions with more than 4,000 people not to require masks if all attendees are fully vaccinated. Under the rules, organizers who require proof of vaccination can admit attendees who’ve only received one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, but those people must still wear masks indoors. 

New York (Democratic trifecta): 

  • On Sept. 2, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a residential and commercial coronavirus-related eviction moratorium into law. The moratorium would be effective through Jan. 15, 2022.
  • On Sept. 2, the New York Department of Health released a regulation requiring teachers and school staff to be vaccinated or receive regular coronavirus testing.

Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): On Sept. 3, Gov. Daniel McKee (D) extended Rhode Island’s coronavirus state of emergency through Oct. 2.

South Carolina (Republican trifecta): On Sept. 2, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the city of Columbia’s challenge to the state’s ban on mask requirements. In the opinion, the court found that the mask requirement ban, which was established in a state budget amendment, did not violate a rule requiring state laws address a single primary subject.

Tennessee (Republican trifecta): On Friday, Sept. 3, U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Sheryl H. Lipman ruled in favor of two students who sued Gov. Bill Lee (R) after he issued an order allowing students to opt out of school mask mandates. Lipman ruled Lee’s order violated the students’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Washington (Democratic trifecta): On Friday, Sept. 3, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued an order prohibiting local government agencies, officials, and landlords from banning mask requirements or proof-of-vaccination requirements. 

Wisconsin (divided government): On Friday, Sept. 3, Gov. Tony Evers (D) extended the statewide vaccine incentive initiative through Sept. 19. The initiative allows anyone 12 and older to claim a $100 Visa gift card if he or she gets the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Vaccine distribution

We last looked at vaccine distribution in the Sept. 2 edition of the newsletter. As of Sept. 3, the states with the highest vaccination rates as a percentage of total population (including children) were:

The states with the lowest rates were:

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 1,879 lawsuits in 50 states dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 578 of those lawsuits. 

Since Aug. 31, we have added nine lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional four court orders and/or settlements. 

Details:

  • Norris v. Stanley: On Aug. 31, Judge Paul Maloney, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, declined to block Michigan State University’s (MSU) COVID-19 vaccine mandate. MSU employee Jeanna Norris alleged,  that she should be exempted from the vaccine mandate because she has natural antibodies from a previous infection. MSU’s vaccine policy requires all MSU faculty, staff, and students “to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with an FDA-authorized or WHO-approved vaccine.” While the mandate does provide for limited medical and religious exceptions, it specifically excludes natural immunity as a qualifying exemption. Norris argued MSU was “forcing me to choose between performing my professional duties to the best of my ability and protecting my personal health” and “between protecting my constitutional right to bodily autonomy, privacy and protection and keeping my job.” Norris alleged “MSU cannot establish a compelling governmental interest in overriding personal autonomy and constitutional rights.” Maloney said Norris did not show a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits.” Jenin Younes, litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is representing Norris, said, “We have faith that when the Court has the opportunity to review the insurmountable evidence that supports the existence, durability, and robustness of natural immunity, it will recognize that MSU’s policy violates the constitutional rights of Ms. Norris and others in her position.” Maloney is George W. Bush (R) appointee.

State mask requirements

We last looked at face coverings in the Aug. 31 edition of the newsletter. Since then, no changes to statewide mask requirements occurred. As of Sept. 7, masks were required in ten states with Democratic governors. Thirteen states with Democratic governors and all 27 states with Republican governors had no state-level mask requirements in effect.

COVID-19 emergency health orders

Read more: State emergency health orders during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2021

Governors and state agencies in all 50 states issued orders declaring active emergencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These orders allowed officials to access resources, like stockpiles of medical goods and equipment, unavailable to them during non-emergencies and temporarily waive or suspend certain rules and regulations. 

Overview

  • COVID-19 emergency orders have expired in 24 states. Emergency orders remain active in 26 states.

Since Aug. 31, no state has ended or enacted a COVID-19 emergency order. 



U.S. Census Bureau will release easier-to-use format of 2020 census data on Sept. 16

The U.S. Census Bureau will release data from the 2020 census in easier-to-use formats at data.census.gov on Sept. 16, the agency recently announced. The Census Bureau also said it would deliver DVDs and flash drives of the data to state legislatures and redistricting authorities on that date. It had previously announced that it would release this summary data by Sept. 30.

The Census Bureau released block-level data from the 2020 census in a legacy format on Aug. 12, which included county-level demographic information. That release allowed allows states to begin the process of drawing congressional and state legislative district maps.

The decennial census is mandated by the U. S. Constitution, and a census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. The 2020 census was the 24th conducted.

The Census Bureau was originally scheduled to deliver redistricting data to the states by March 30, but the process was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sixteen states have constitutional deadlines requiring that they complete their legislative redistricting this year, and eight have such deadlines to complete their congressional redistricting.

Additional reading:



A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, August 31-September 4, 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. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened August 31-September 4, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here

Monday, August 31, 2020

Election changes:

  • Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed into law legislation making several changes to administration procedures for the Nov. 3 general election (including the requirement that counties provide some form of in-person Election Day and early voting).
  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Judge Eleanor L. Ross issued an order extending the return deadlines for absentee ballots in the general election. Ross ordered officials to accept as valid any absentee ballots postmarked Nov. 3 and received by 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 6.

School closures and reopenings:

  • Connecticut schools were allowed to reopen for in-person instruction. Classrooms had been closed since March 16.
  • Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced every public school district in the state except Providence and Central Falls would be permitted to resume in-person instruction when schools reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year. Raimondo said in-person classes were scheduled to start Sept. 14.

Eviction and foreclosure policies

  • Pennsylvania’s statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) extended the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through Oct. 1. DeSantis’ order allowed landlords to seek an eviction judgment in court, but said final judgments could not happen until the moratorium had ended.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill preventing evictions for nonpayment of rent through Jan. 31, 2021. 
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) issued an order extending the statewide foreclosure moratorium through December.

State court changes:

  • Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera allowed courts to move into Phase IV of the state court’s reopening plan on Aug. 31. Phase IV allowed most in-person proceedings to resume, with the exception of jury trials. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel extended the state’s stay-at-home public health order through Sept. 18.

Federal government responses:

  • White House spokesman Judd Deere announced that the U.S. would not join an international initiative called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, the goal of which was to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) spearheaded the initiative.

School closures and reopenings:

  • The Maryland Board of Education approved new minimum requirements for instruction. The Board required schools to be open for at least 180 days and offer at least six hours of instruction, of which 3.5 hours had to be synchronous (e.g., all students taught at the same time) for grades K-12.
  • The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued new guidance that required student-athletes to wear face coverings during games and practices when social distancing wasn’t possible.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) closed bars in Monongalia County, two days after allowing them to reopen. He first closed bars in Monongalia in July following a spike in coronavirus cases in that area. 

Election changes:

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced an online absentee ballot request portal for the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Denise Owens ordered Mississippi officials to expand absentee voting eligibility in the Nov. 3 general election to individuals with “pre-existing conditions that cause COVID-19 to present a greater risk of severe illness or death.”

School closures and reopenings:

  • The Indiana Board of Education voted to update its definition of what counts as a virtual student for use in the state’s school funding formula. As a result, students who opted for virtual learning during the pandemic were still counted in their school’s funding formula.

Thursday, September 3, 2020 

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) announced the state would remain in Phase Four of reopening for at least two more weeks. Idaho entered Phase Four on June 13.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) moved the state into Phase 2.5 of reopening. Under Phase 2.5, the limit on gatherings increased to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. Museums and aquariums were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, while gyms and indoor exercise facilities could reopen at 30% capacity.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that indoor dining services and movie theaters could reopen with restrictions. 

Travel restrictions:

  • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced that out-of-state travelers from states with a 5% positivity rate or greater or a new case rate greater than 80 per 1 million residents would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Additionally, she announced that travelers from any state could avoid the quarantine requirement with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before or after entry into the state. Travelers waiting for a test result were required to self-quarantine.

Election changes:

  • Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed into law legislation providing for the use of drop-boxes to return absentee/mail-in ballots. The legislation also provided for prepaid return postage.

State court changes:

  • Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins Seitz Jr. extended the judicial emergency through Oct. 5, and announced that the judiciary would move into a modified Phase 3 of reopening on that date. Under the modified Phase 3 plan, the Delaware Supreme Court permitted jury trials to resume and allowed courts to increase capacity from 50% to 75%.

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