Budget and Taxes

WY Economists Support Social Distancing: The closure of public spaces due to the coronavirus pandemic is causing major job and revenue losses in Wyoming, where personal income indicators and oil prices were already trending down at the end of 2019.

“Wyoming’s economy was already starting to slow down,” said Jim Robinson, a principal economist at the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division. “Now we’re looking at a pretty serious economic contraction – not just in Wyoming, but across the country.”

Consequently, Wyoming residents like conservative philanthropist Foster Friess, have endorsed reopening local businesses.

“In addition to the two primary goals of saving lives and avoiding hospital crush, we must also avoid destroying the economy,” he said.

But Linda Thunstrom, an economist at the University of Wyoming and co-author of a new report weighing the costs and benefits of “flattening the curve,” said closing public spaces is necessary to avoid extended economic hardship.

“It’s fair to say that social distancing is worth it,” she said of the report’s findings.

Another UW economist, Robert Godby, said the length of time it takes for the state’s economy to recover “depends on our success of stopping the virus from spreading now.”

“We’ve gotten to the point in this pandemic where we need to stop the spread of the virus,” he said. “If we lose control that way, the death toll will be higher, and it will just take that much longer before the economy can get back up and running again.”

Still, Thunstrom expects it to take five years or more for the economy to fully recover. (WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE)

Budgets in Brief:

NJ Freezes Spending Due to COVID-19: New Jersey’s Department of Treasury has frozen $920 million in spending to help the state through the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s Homestead property tax relief program for low- and middle-income homeowners took the biggest hit, $142 million. (NORTHJERSEY.COM)

WI Gov Proposes $700M in COVID-19 Spending: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) proposed a $700 million legislative package that would boost healthcare staffing to assist with the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor also said the state planned to purchase 10,000 ventilators and 4 million protective masks. (WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL)

NE Approves $84M in COVID-19 Emergency Appropriations: On a 45-0 vote, Nebraska lawmakers passed and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) quickly signed an $83.6 million emergency appropriations measure last month to help fight the coronavirus. The lion’s share of those appropriations, $38 million, will go toward the purchase of personal protective equipment for first responders and supporting local health departments. (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD)

Tax Collections Drop Significantly in PA: Tax revenues in Pennsylvania fell 6 percent, or $295 million, short of estimates for March. The shortfall doesn’t fully reflect the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic because there’s a lag in some tax collections and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) ordered businesses to close midway through the month. (SPOTLIGHT PA [HARRISBURG])

NV COVID-19 Response Fund Raises $4M in Two Days: A fund set up to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in Nevada collected $4 million in donations and pledges in 48 hours. Among other things, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will provide grants for assistance and supplies for first responders and health care workers. (LAS VEGAS SUN)

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

Judge Slams WI Gov, Lawmakers for Not Postponing Primary: A federal judge in Wisconsin sharply criticized both Democratic governor, Tony Evers, and the Republican-controlled Legislature this month for not postponing the state’s April 7 primary election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The State of Wisconsin’s Legislature and governor are not willing to step up and say there’s a public health crisis and make it absolutely clear that we should not be allowing poll workers and voters to congregate on April 7,” said U.S. District Judge William Conley in connection with a case consolidating three separate challenges to the state’s primary.

Evers and GOP legislative leaders have been urging people to vote by mail instead of voting in-person, and over a million absentee ballots have been requested. But those officials have also repeatedly said the election should go on as scheduled. Evers said just last week that delaying the election would leave local offices unfilled and serve no purpose if the pandemic only gets worse in the coming months.

The governor also said he didn’t have the authority to postpone the election.

“If I could have changed the election on my own I would have, but I can’t without violating state law,” he said in a statement. “I’ve asked the Legislature to do its part to ensure a fair and safe election and I hope we can get some clarity as soon as possible.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) denied Evers had ever suggested delaying the primary.

“In fact, not a single Democratic legislator has even introduced a bill that would move the election date,” he said in a statement. “For Democrats to suggest now that their hands were somehow tied is pure cowardice.”

Judge Conley said he also lacked the power to reschedule the election, but he would consider changing some voting rules, including allowing absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted even if they reached clerks’ offices after that date. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)

Politics in Brief

NV Switching to Mail-Only Primary: Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced last month that the state was effectively eliminating in-person voting for its June 9 primary election and switching entirely to voting by mail as a result of the coronavirus. All active registered voters in the state will be mailed an absentee ballot that they can mail in free of charge. (NEVADA INDEPENDENT [ELKO])

IN Postpones Primary Election: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) issued an executive order last month shifting the state’s primary election from May 5 to June 2 because of the coronavirus. The governor said he believes this is the first time in the state’s 200-year history that it has changed an election date. (INDIANAPOLIS STAR)

GA Making Big Push for Absentee Voting: To encourage voting by mail in its May 19 primary, Georgia’s 6.9 million voters will all be mailed absentee ballot request forms. But polling places will still be open for early voting and on Election Day. (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

OH Extends Absentee Voting After Polls Closed for March 16 Primary: After Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton refused to allow polling places to open for the state’s March 16 primary, the state’s General Assembly unanimously approved a plan extending absentee voting until April 28 and allowing some in-person voting on that date. Voting rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the plan violates the National Voter Registration Act, as well as the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth amendments. (COLUMBUS DISPATCH)

CO Legislature to Extend Session: The Colorado Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the General Assembly can meet beyond its scheduled May 6 adjournment date to make up days missed due to its temporary recess on March 16 because of the coronavirus outbreak. Democrats who control the state’s legislature intended to invoke an emergency rule adopted in 2009 - Joint Rule 44(g) - to extend the session, but Republicans challenged that plan. (COLORADO SUN [DENVER])

CA Cities Seek Suspension of Public Records Act: The League of California Cities, an association representing most of the state’s 482 cities, has asked Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to suspend the California Public Records Act, requiring public agencies to respond to public information requests within 10 days. A spokeswoman for the group said cities’ ability to respond to some public records requests “is limited due to decreased staffing or closure of city facilities” because of the coronavirus pandemic. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WI Shuttering Polling Places for Primary: Election clerks are in such short supply in Wisconsin because of the coronavirus that they are planning to eliminate polling locations across the state - including many in Milwaukee - for the state’s April 7 primary. About 1,400 poll workers are required in Milwaukee, but less than 400 are currently available. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

Do Gov Order Quarantines Cross Legal Lines? Seeking to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governors in several states have issued orders requiring visitors from other states – or even residents returning from visiting other states or countries – to self-quarantine for 14 days.

To date, mandatory quarantine orders have been issued by governors in West Virginia, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Florida, South Carolina and Montana. Meanwhile, governors in Massachusetts and Nevada have opted to urge those who are coming from so-called “COVID-19 hot spots” to self-quarantine without mandating them to do so.

But Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson says it is questionable whether mandatory quarantines would pass constitutional muster. In an op-ed written for NBC News, she notes three distinct issues: the constitutional right to travel freely, the federal government's exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce, and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The last concern would definitely have come into play with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s original quarantine order, which allowed Ocean State police to stop cars with New York state license plates and order their drivers into quarantine.

Levinson might not have solid answers to these questions for a while, but those eventual decisions could have long-lasting impacts.

“Judges may be loath to second-guess the judgment of governors and mayors whose stated aim is to protect their residents from serious illness, but they will eventually have to help define the boundaries of how far governments can go to protect their residents,” she said. (POLITICO, NBC NEWS, PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, INSIDE SOURCES, BILLINGS GAZETTE, TAMPA BAY TIMES, TULSA WORLD)

Under Pressure, FL Gov Finally Says Stay-At-Home: After resisting for weeks, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued a statewide stay-at-home order last Wednesday. The order, which went into effect on Thursday, is for 30 days.

DeSantis had come under increasing criticism for not issuing the order as his state suffers a growing number of COVID-19 cases. As of April 1, the Sunshine State had reported almost 7,000 cases and 87 deaths. He had continued that resistance right up until March 31, when the White House announced federal guidelines urging Americans to shelter at home through April 30. That was apparently enough for DeSantis, one of President Trump’s most ardent supporters.

Another holdout, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R), also issued a stay-at-home order last Thursday. That order is good through April 14.

Governors in at least 37 other states and the District of Columbia have previously issued stay-at-home orders. Others, however, remain reluctant to follow suit. Most reference fears about the damage a shutdown might inflict on their economies.

“Folks, at this point, we have no current plans to do so,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) told the Birmingham News. “We have seen other states in the country doing that as well as other countries. But however, y’all, we are not California, we’re not New York, we aren’t even Louisiana.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) expressed similar views, saying “It's not about staying at home. It's about avoiding contact. We’ll keep monitoring the situation, and if our approach isn't working, we may issue additional guidance.”

Even states with such orders, however, allow numerous exceptions, most often for essential services – pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. - but also for seemingly non-essential offerings like churches. Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin all allow exemptions for religious gatherings.

Churches are hardly the only exceptions. Around the country, golf courses, gun shops, construction projects and auto repair facilities have remained open as well. (NEWSWEEK, BIRMINGHAM NEWS, NEW YORK TIMES, CNN, BLOOMBERG)

Governors in Brief

Govs Make Urgent Call for Doctors: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an effort to encourage approximately 37,000 retired medical professionals and nursing students to join or return to the state’s health care workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom said the program had 25,000 sign-ups on the first day. VERMONT Gov. Phil Scott (R) announced a similar program. Both came as NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called on health care workers from around the U.S. to come to his state to help them address the massive outbreak there. (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, NBC NEWS, VERMONT PUBLIC RADIO)

NC Gov Bars Utility Shut Offs: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) issued an executive order last week that bars utilities from shutting off service to people who are unable to pay. The Order applies to electric, gas, water and wastewater services for the next 60 days. (WWAY [LELAND])

Herbert Orders UT Eviction Moratorium: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order that imposes a 45-day freeze on new evictions based on nonpayment for renters in the Beehive State. The order allows renters who have lost their income due to the COVID-19 shutdown to defer monthly payments until May 15. (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, UTAH GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Justice Halts WV Elective Surgeries: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) issued Executive Order No. 16-20, which suspends all elective surgical procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Justice issued a second order (EO No. 15-20) that directs private campground operators to refuse admittance to new out-of-state visitors. (WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Whitmer Closes MI Schools for the Rest of the Year: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued Executive Order No. 2020-35, which suspends in-person learning for the rest of the school year at K-12 schools across the Wolverine State. The order allows the use of district facilities by public school employees and contractors to facilitate learning at a distance as long as they continue to practice social distancing. (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: Responding to over 1,100 complaints of companies not doing enough to protect their workers from the coronavirus, the OREGON Occupational Safety and Health division announces it will begin inspecting workplaces to ensure those employers are adhering to proper safety guidelines (PORTLAND OREGONIAN). NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy (D) adds gun retailers to the list of Garden State essential businesses allowed to stay open for business during the coronavirus pandemic. Murphy said he changed his position on the matter to adhere with federal guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security (NJ.COM).

Education: ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signs HB 2910, which relaxes rules requiring a minimum number of school days and mandatory testing. Schools are required to switch to online-only instruction or other alternatives after the end of the month and teachers and support staff can work remotely and won’t lose pay (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Environment: The Trump administration finalizes new rules for vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions that require automakers to reduce emissions by 1.5 percent each year through 2026, with new vehicles averaging just over 40 miles per gallon. That marks a significant rollback from previous rules adopted during the Obama administration, which required 5 percent reductions each year that would have resulted in an average of 46.7 mpg fuel efficiency. Twenty-three states have sued to block enforcement of the new rules (USA TODAY).

Health & Science: The MARYLAND Health Services Cost Review Commission announces it will allow Old Line State hospitals to temporarily raise rates across the board to help pay for increased costs associated with treating the COVID 19 pandemic (BALTIMORE SUN). ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey (R) issues Executive Order 2020-19, which allows pet owners to have a veterinarian treat their pet over the phone or computer and also prohibits the doctors from charging a higher fee for telemedicine (ARIZONA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). MICHIGAN Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issues Executive Order 2020-34, which prohibits in-person veterinary services that aren’t essential. Her directive also encourages animal care facilities to shift towards telemedicine through the duration of the coronavirus pandemic (MLIVE, MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Social Policy: Judges in multiple states block attempts by Republican lawmakers and governors in TEXAS, ALABAMA and OHIO from issuing statewide bans on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic. Abortion advocates have filed suit against similar bans imposed in IOWA and OKLAHOMA (REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS). IDAHO Gov. Brad Little (R) signs two LGBTQ bills: HB 500, which bans transgender girls from playing on girls’ and women’s sports teams, and HB 509, which prohibits transgender people from obtaining a new birth certificate with their gender identity on it (CNN). 

Local Front: U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan grants a preliminary injunction blocking the city of DALLAS from enforcing a new ordinance that requires private employers to offer paid sick leave. The City Council is weighing an appeal (DALLAS MORNING NEWS). LOS ANGELES County health officials order the closure of restaurants that have turned themselves into pop-up grocery stores during the pandemic shutdown. Officials say the eateries are operating outside the scope of their business permit (NBC LOS ANGELES). Also in L.A., Mayor Eric Garcetti imposes a freeze on rents for tenants living in rent-controlled buildings within city limits. The order will impact approximately 624,000 units across the city (CURBED LOS ANGELES).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN 

Other News, Views & a Riff or Two

One Stop Shopping for COVID-19 Bill Info: Keeping up with the tsunami of state and federal legislation, regulations, executive orders and local ordinances imposed in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is an exhausting job. So with that in mind, here’s a big tip of the hat to my LexisNexis colleagues for putting together a new one-stop clearinghouse to keep track of the more than 2,000 new bills and orders related to COVID-19. I understand it was a Herculean effort that required a lot of folks to work a lot of hours to get in place, so by all means take advantage of it as soon as you can. An official launch is coming soon, but in the meantime you can check it out here.

A Matter of Perspective: It’s hard to fathom a 920 percent spike in unemployment claims being good news, but given these troubled times that is probably what Oregon officials are thinking today. According to a new WalletHub study, the Beaver State has experienced the lowest spike in the country in insurance claims from 2019 to 2020. That increase is of course owing almost exclusively to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois and Wisconsin are the next in line. And the worst? That would be Indiana, with a 7093 percent hike.

Virus Curtails Ballot Measures: From sports betting in California to medical marijuana in Nebraska, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down more than schools and businesses – it has also stopped ballot measure drives in their tracks. As Bloomberg reports, stay at home orders have terminated signature gathering campaigns, leaving those that have not already collected enough to get on the ballot in limbo. That, however, doesn’t include a signature gathering campaign funded by rideshare and other gig economy companies seeking to overturn a 2019 California law that established strict new legal parameters for classifying workers. The drive by Uber and Lyft has already collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. 

Companies Want COVID-19 Delay in CA Data Privacy Law: With COVID-19 disrupting every facet of American life, a collection of businesses and advertising trade groups think California should delay enforcement of its seminal data privacy law, set to begin this summer. As reported by Lexology (yet another sister Lexis publication), the group sent a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra seeking to delay enforcement until next year in order to allow them to focus on the well being of their workers. The AG has not indicated any interest in going along with the request.

Tourism Losses Could be Far Worse Than After 9/11: The U.S. Travel Association reported last week that the sudden decline in tourism could cost the U.S. economy $910 billion, seven times the decline seen after 9/11. The estimated 34 percent decline in travel could ultimately cost 5.9 million in tourism-related jobs and raise the U.S. unemployment rate to over 7 percent on its own.

And Finally...This: Anyone familiar with California Gov. Gavin Newsom knows he has a very unique vocal style, even for a politician. One of his particular Gavinisms is to use the same phraseology over and over again. In what have now become daily press conferences since the advent of the COVID-19 outbreak, he can barely go a sentence without using terms like “meet this moment,” “decisions, not conditions” or “in real time,” all said with his usual pronounced emphasis on each word. And while those of us who cover the governor for a living are grateful for his willingness to talk to us every day, we’re also grateful there is not a drinking game associated with his repeated use of those terms.

-- By RICH EHISEN