COVID-19 outbreak leads 28 statehouses to suspend, end work
Coronavirus concerns have spurred legislatures around the country to make adjustments to legislative business.
At the onset of COVID-19 concerns in mid-March, statehouses started to adjust schedules and also acted to limit building access by the public. Committee meetings and floor activities soon were postponed or cancelled.
As of early April, there are 14 legislatures that have postponed their legislative session for at least one month, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 10 states do not plan to return for at least two weeks. Four more states have closed for the year earlier than scheduled.
In Georgia, the Legislature suspended the regular session indefinitely out of “an abundance of caution.” Instead, a special session was convened to address efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.
During that time, one state senator acknowledged he tested positive for the virus. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Senate Transportation Chairman Brandon Beach was symptomatic for multiple days but continued to show up to the statehouse.
By mid-March, all 236 members of the Georgia House and Senate and employees received memos urging them to self-isolate through March 30. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan also announced he would self-quarantine.
“I encourage all of us to continue to heed the warnings of Gov. (Brian) Kemp and the Trump administration – we have to take this seriously,” Duncan wrote in prepared remarks.
The Legislature has adjourned until a future date.
As of early April, there are at least a dozen statehouses where at least one legislator has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Other regular sessions end early
In Maryland, the General Assembly has shut down for a minimum of two months. The legislature was scheduled to be in regular session until April 6. There are plans to hold a special session before June to pass any necessary legislation.
The Maine Legislature has shut down for the year after approving a supplemental budget and passing legislation related to the virus. The session ended about one month earlier than was scheduled.
By March 20, Idaho lawmakers adjourned for the year – one week earlier than was scheduled.
Tennessee’s General Assembly has recessed for at least two months.
In a joint statement from Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, the decision for “passing an amended budget now and recessing will allow the General Assembly to focus on an immediate plan of action while still determining needs down the road.”
Similarly in Kansas, in mid-March the Legislature raced to approve a 10-year, $10 billion transportation spending plan. State lawmakers were then sent home until the end of April.
In late March, the Delaware Legislature extended a one-week postponement to an “indefinite postponement.” The Louisiana and Mississippi legislatures also acted to suspend business indefinitely.
The Hawaii Legislature also acted to recess. Senate President Ronald Kouchi said the Legislature would “resume the session at a future date.”
After previously announcing in mid-March they would take a two-week break, the New Hampshire legislature has since extended its adjournment to May 4.
Other state legislatures taking at least one month off from official business: Alabama, Calfornia, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey and Ohio.
Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Carolina legislatures committed to taking at least a two-week break.
The Wisconsin Senate postponed business in late March. The state’s Assembly adjourned for the year in February.
Additionally, the New York Assembly has not met since mid-March. The state’s Senate will not meet until further notice.
Limited changes elsewhere
At press time, there were six states where the legislature has had no extended suspension or postponement. They are: Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Instead, they have taken steps to limit interactions while lawmakers focus their efforts to combat the virus.
There are 10 legislatures that adjourned on their regular schedule: Florida, Indiana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Four states did not meet in regular session this year: Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas. LL