UPDATE: Coronavirus concerns continue to disrupt statehouse activity

April 14, 2020

Keith Goble

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Coronavirus concerns since mid-March have spurred most state legislatures around the country to shutter. Statehouses from Alaska to New Hampshire continue to adjust their timetables for conducting legislative business, and how they do the public’s work in the near future.

At the onset of COVID-19 concerns, statehouses started to change schedules and also acted to limit building access by the public. Committee meetings and floor activities soon were postponed or cancelled.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as of mid-April, half of all state legislatures have postponed their legislative session.

State legislators contract virus

In mid-March, the Georgia General Assembly suspended the regular session indefinitely out of “an abundance of caution.” Instead, a special session was convened to address efforts to combat COVID-19.

During that special session, one leading Senate lawmaker was found to have tested positive for the virus. As a result, all 236 members of the Georgia House and Senate and employees were urged to self-isolate through the end of the month.

The Legislature has adjourned until a future date.

There are more than a dozen statehouses where at least one legislator has tested positive for coronavirus. Deaths of state lawmakers attributed to the virus are reported in Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota.

Statehouse suspensions

Tennessee’s General Assembly is expected to be recessed for about 11 weeks.

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.”

Legislators in the Volunteer State have been out since mid-March. They are planning to return on June 1.

The Kansas Legislature raced in mid-March to approve a 10-year, $10 billion transportation spending plan. State lawmakers were then sent home until the end of April.

In Colorado, the General Assembly has been adjourned since March 14.

The state Supreme Court has since given the legislature flexibility to extend the session beyond the original May 6 adjournment date. Lawmakers are scheduled to return on May 18.

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.

In other statehouses there is no clear date for legislators to return. Statehouses that are adjourned or recessed until further notice: Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Carolina. The Hawaii Legislature has been suspended indefinitely.

Additionally, the New York Assembly has not met since mid-March. The state’s Senate will not meet until further notice.

The Illinois House has adjourned until further notice. Meanwhile, the state’s Senate is adjourned until April 28.

Elsewhere, the following state legislatures have taken multiple weeks off from official business: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Rhode Island. These statehouses have return dates from mid-April to early May.

H3: Other regular sessions end early
In Maryland, the General Assembly shut down in mid-March – about three weeks earlier than was scheduled. 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.

Idaho lawmakers also adjourned for the year – one week earlier than was scheduled.

Changes elsewhere

Legislatures around the country are holding special sessions to address issues related to COVID-19, or to tackle other pressing topics.

Additionally, certain legislatures are taking action or pursuing rule changes to permit business to be done in a virtual format.

On Monday April 13, the New Jersey Senate opened its first-ever remote voting session.

Similarly in Vermont, both chambers acted last week to approve a measure to authorize virtual voting. Since then, the House has conducted virtual committee meetings.

The South Dakota Legislature held its recent veto day remotely.

There are at least a dozen more statehouses where legislation has been introduced or approved to authorize lawmakers to participate remotely. States included are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah.

The Oregon and Wisconsin legislatures already had rules in place to permit remote participation in an emergency.

Statehouses largely unaffected

There are 10 legislatures that that were able to adjourn on their regular schedule: Florida, Indiana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Most of the above mentioned states had adjournment dates prior to mid-March.

Four states did not meet in regular session this year: Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.

More Land Line coverage of state action related to COVID-19 is available.

Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.