Congress spent much of last month hammering out coronavirus response legislation, including the largest federal economic relief bill in U.S. history. But state and local governments have also been churning out coronavirus-related legislation, regulations and ordinances, a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Passage last month of the massive $2.2 trillion national relief package - roughly the equivalent of half the entire federal budget - followed congressional lawmakers’ approval of other coronavirus-related bills focusing on emergency response, worker medical leave and food aid. However, it’s a lack of federal action as the crisis was unfolding around the world that state and local officials have decried - and which has driven their own vigorous COVID-19 response.

At least 35 states have introduced roughly 400 bills and resolutions concerning the coronavirus, according to LexisNexis State Net’s legislative tracking system. Those numbers are up significantly from the seven states and about a dozen COVID-19 measures in early March and even the 27 states and roughly 150 measures in mid-March. Another indication of how quickly states have ramped up on the issue is that 32 have already enacted or adopted over 100 COVID-related measures.

Kevin Schmidt, Supervisor of Client Services for LexisNexis State Net, said COVID-19 is now one of the most active issues it is tracking, surpassing even state education and public employee retirement, two perennially high-volume issues.

“Keep in mind, many sessions are two-year sessions, so this issue in a little over a month has overtaken 98 percent of the other legislative issues,” he said.

Schmidt said COVID-19 is also attracting a lot of interest from State Net clients. The only thing he could compare it to, he said, was the entirety of the privacy issues State Net tracks, which have long been of high interest to clients.

“In my experience we have never seen this much interest in a single issue this quickly by this many clients,” he said.

Many of the introduced and approved measures make appropriations to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Several measures also deal with adjournments of legislative sessions, eligibility for Medicaid and other government programs and stay at home orders or closures of schools, businesses and public areas.

But one of the most active COVID-related issues is telemedicine. About 30 measures deal with that subject, nearly half of which have been enacted. Most of the measures provide for the expansion of telehealth services, including to behavioral health and emergency care (such as New York SB 706), or insurance coverage of such services (Maine SB 676).

Other healthcare-related legislation includes pending measures in Louisiana (HB 826) that would provide limited immunity from civil liability for medical personnel during the COVID-19 emergency.

A fair number of measures also deal with workplace-related issues. They include pending legislation in New York (AB 10152/SB 8090) and Ohio (SB 299 and HB 593) ensuring workers sick leave for COVID-19, in addition to enactments in Alaska (HB 308), Arizona (SB 1694), Massachusetts (SB 2599) and Minnesota (HB 4531) dealing with unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 emergency.

Several pending bills concern the insurance industry, including Louisiana HB 858 and SB 477, New Jersey AB 3844, New York AB 10226 and Ohio HB 589, all of which would require business interruption insurance to cover stoppages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (For more on these measures see COVID-19 Puts Focus on Business Interruption Insurance in the April 3 issue of SNCJ.) Pending legislation in Louisiana (SB 426), Minnesota (HB 4416) and New Jersey (SB 2234) would require insurers to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing.

The potentially huge costs of testing and treating COVID-19 patients could, in turn, spur additional legislation to avert a spike in insurance premiums by 40 percent or more next year, as projected in a report from Covered California, that state’s health insurance marketplace.

“Consumers, employers and our entire health care system may be facing unforeseen costs that could exceed $251 billion, Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee told the Sacramento Bee. “Consumers will feel these costs through higher out-of-pocket expenses and premiums, as well as the potential of employers dropping coverage or shifting more costs to employees.”

There are also several pending bills in Alaska (HB 310, HB 312 and SB 242), Massachusetts (HB 4615) and New York (SB 8109) that would impose moratoriums on evictions and mortgage foreclosures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as another pending measure in New York (SB 8125) that would suspend rent payments for individuals unemployed or small businesses closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

State regulatory activity related to COVID-19 has also ratcheted up very quickly. As of the beginning of March, 9 states had proposed 28 regulatory actions, according to State Net’s regulatory database. By the middle of that month, the number of states had increased to 35 and the number of proposed actions had grown to 170. The number of actions now stands at over 1000, and they’ve been proposed in all 50 states. About 300 of the actions have been adopted.

Many of the actions merely provide notice of public hearings, meeting postponements and cancellations, or schedule teleconferences for government boards.

But as with the COVID-related legislative activity, many of the regulatory actions - about 15 percent of the total - pertain to telemedicine. Some actions deal exclusively with that subject, like California 6270, while others, including California 6223 and Massachusetts 2124, combine provisions encouraging the utilization of telehealth services with those discouraging cost-sharing for COVID testing and preauthorization for COVID treatment.

Among the numerous other insurance-related actions are those dealing with: premium adjustments for COVID-related impacts on rate factors like miles driven, sales revenues and payroll (Alaska 33382); grace periods for late premium payments (California 6230); moratoriums on policy cancellations & non-renewals (Arkansas 3434); the surveying of business interruption insurance policies that exclude COVID-19 (California 6265) or business interruption insurance endorsement forms providing for coverage of COVID-related business losses (Georgia 1618); and coverage of risks associated with COVID-19 by travel insurance policies (Illinois 1876).

Along with the telemedicine-related actions there are also many others relating to healthcare, including those concerning: suspension of the signature requirement for prescription drug purchases (Arkansas 3446); suspension of random audits for pharmacists (Arkansas 3445); waiver of license renewal requirements for healthcare providers (Florida 47038); flexibility on the issuance and administration of medical malpractice insurance (Massachusetts 2160); and expedited licensure of drug distributors (Ohio 1848).

There are also quite a few human resource-related actions, including those addressing: temporary workers compensation relief for businesses impacted by a public health emergency (Alaska 34337); paid sick leave for workers in hospitality; and coverage of workplace exposure to COVID by workers compensation insurance (Florida 59148)

City and county governments have also been very active on COVID-19. The roughly 240 jurisdictions currently covered in State Net’s local government database have proposed more than 200 ordinances.

A number of the ordinances declare local emergencies. And like the state legislative actions, many of the ordinances deal with appropriations for COVID response. But instead of telehealth, it is moratoriums on commercial and residential evictions that figure most prominently among the specific issues addressed by the ordinances.

The ordinances deal with a variety of other topics as well, including: plans for COVID-19 isolation, quarantine and recovery sites [County of King, Washington (2020-0154)]; paid leave for full-time, part-time and seasonal municipal employees [City of Omaha (42185)]; and authorization for the mayor to negotiate agreements with airlines, airport concessionaires and rental car companies [City of Houston (02020-194)].

Local actions by the County of Los Angeles have been particularly numerous and wide-ranging, covering everything from assessing medical equipment and resources, including surgical masks and respirators (20-1459), and providing for the expedited acquisition of such supplies (20-2037), to consumer protections during declared states of emergency (20-1818); cancellation of penalties resulting from delinquent property tax payments (20-1874); the safe release of incarcerated persons particularly vulnerable to coronavirus (20-1993); proclamation of April 2020 as “Arts Month” to support arts organizations through the coronavirus pandemic; and eligibility requirements for health insurance for part-time employees (20-2048).

With the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus far from over - and the economic fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic only just beginning - more actions from all levels of government are undoubtedly on the way.

-- By KOREY CLARK


COVID-19 Measures Enacted in Nearly 2/3 of States

At least 35 states have introduced bills or resolutions dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to LexisNexis State Net’s legislative tracking system. Thirty-two of those states have enacted such measures.

 To our readers,

Given our historic national crisis, most of this edition of the State Net Capitol Journal is focused on the wide array of efforts being undertaken by state and local officials to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, we will also do our best to keep you informed of other important actions from our statehouses while we faithfully stick to shelter-in-place requirements and other best practices aimed at flattening the curve of the spread of this deadly virus. So please be safe, be smart and let’s all work together to get through this with as little harm as possible.

For a complete rundown of all the legislative and regulatory actions being taken by federal, state and local governments, visit our new COVID-19 Update page. 

-- State Net Capitol Journal Managing Editor Rich Ehisen