Budget and Taxes

Hardest-Hit States Don’t Receive Most COVID-19 Aid Per Capita: The states hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic received relatively little - on a per-capita basis - of the $150 billion approved by Congress this spring for expenses related to combatting the disease, compared to states that had far fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths.

New York and New Jersey, the two states with the highest number of cases by far (332,900+ and 133,600+, respectively), received about $24,000 and $27,000 per case. Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan, three other states with high numbers of cases, all received under $100,000 per case.

Relatively low-case states like Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming, meanwhile, received between $2 million and $3.4 million per case.

As is often the case when Congress doles out federal aid, the COVID-19 relief was awarded on the basis of population, although with the additional stipulation that each state receive at least $1.25 billion, a concession that was reportedly necessary to secure approval of the aid package. And as usual, states with smaller populations received more of the money per-capita than more populous ones.

Bill Hamond, director of public health policy for New York-based government watchdog group the Empire Center for Public Policy, slammed the adoption of that conventional funding approach in a public health crisis.

“If there’s a fire, you don’t spray the whole neighborhood,” he said. “You spray the house that’s on fire.” (ASSOCIATED PRESS, NEW YORK TIMES)

Budgets in Brief:

WA Facing Potential $7B COVID-19 Revenue Hit Through 2023: A preliminary budget forecast indicates the coronavirus pandemic could cost the state of Washington $7 billion in revenue through 2023. Although there is “substantial uncertainty” in the unofficial numbers from the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, it’s likely a special session will be needed to adjust the state’s current $52.9 billion 2019-21 spending plan. (SEATTLE TIMES)

Half of LA Oil Businesses Headed for Bankruptcy: About half of Louisiana’s oil and gas businesses are expected to file for bankruptcy due to the recent collapse in oil prices. Nearly a fourth of the state’s oil and gas workers have already lost their jobs. (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE])

MS Lawmakers Assume Control Over COVID-19 Relief Funds: Mississippi’s GOP-controlled Legislature approved legislation nearly unanimously last week giving them authority over about $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 relief aid that Gov. Tate Reeves (R) claimed to control. With veto-proof majorities in both chambers, it was unclear what actions the governor could take in response. (CLARION LEDGER [JACKSON])

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

OK Goes Back and Forth on Absentee Ballot Notarization Requirement: Last week the Oklahoma Supreme Court threw out a longstanding state requirement that absentee ballots be notarized. The court’s decision came in connection with a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and two Oklahoma residents challenging the requirement - in light of the coronavirus pandemic - on the grounds that a change in state law in 2002 allowed voters to submit signed affidavits instead.

“This is a victory for every Oklahoma voter who wants to exercise the right to vote but not risk their lives to do so,” one of the plaintiffs, Peggy Winton, an immunocompromised cancer survivor, said of the ruling.

But days later the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed a bill (SB 210) reinstating the notarization requirement with some exceptions, including allowing voters to submit a copy of a state ID in lieu of notarization if a public health emergency has recently been in effect, as is likely to be the case for the state’s June primary.

“Unfortunately, the Oklahoma Supreme Court legislated from the bench on Monday,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R). “Oklahomans need to have confidence that our election process is secure and free from fraud. This measure upholds the integrity of our absentee ballot process while also making it easier to vote absentee during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic all in an attempt to protect the health and safety of voters and election workers.” (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY], TULSA WORLD, KOCO 5 NEWS [OKLAHOMA CITY], LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Politics in Brief

Lawsuit Filed Over Obstacles to Voting in AL: The Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama seeking to remove obstacles to voting in the state’s July 14 runoff election, given the coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, the lawsuit seeks to block enforcement of a law requiring absentee voters to sign their ballots before a notary or two witnesses and to remove the state’s prohibition against curb-side voting. (AL.COM)

GA Spending Some COVID Election Aid on Election Safety Equipment: Georgia is distributing up to $6,000 to each county election office for coronavirus-related election expenses, including personal protective equipment and secure drop boxes. The disbursements are being funded with some of the state’s roughly $11 million share of $400 million in election-related coronavirus aid approved by Congress in April. (ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION)

Not All Provisional Ballots Cast in OH Primary to Be Counted: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose instructed county elections boards last week not to count ballots from voters in the state’s coronavirus-extended primary election who did not request an absentee ballot by noon April 25. The election was scheduled for March 17, but hours before the polls were supposed to open, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) ordered them to stay closed because of the pandemic, and state lawmakers approved a plan that included extending the primary to April 28 and conducting it primarily by mail. (COLUMBUS DISPATCH)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

States Band Together to Buy Medical Supplies: The governors of seven northeastern states announced they will work together on acquiring medical supplies needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint virtual news conference, the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware said aggregating their orders would ramp up their purchasing power, leading to lower prices and a more stable supply chain. The governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island are also part of the coalition, though they did not attend the news conference.

“We will buy as a consortium, P.P.E., medical equipment, ventilators, whatever we need to buy,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Cuomo said the consortium was necessary to prevent each of the individual states from “this mad scramble” of having to compete against one another for those supplies. He also intimated more frustration with President Donald Trump’s view that states should be responsible for acquiring their own Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and other medical necessities. 

“As a nation, we can’t go through this again,” Cuomo said. “There was competition among states, there was competition among private entities to get this equipment, the federal government was trying to buy it. I’m bidding on behalf of New York, we’re bidding against other states. Texas, California — other states across the country are trying to buy the same masks from the same vendor.”

That, he said, led to a “price bidding war” between states at the height of the pandemic in New York, which he called “totally inefficient and ineffective.”

Cuomo said the seven states together will combine to buy approximately $5 billion in supplies. He noted states will also be able to share information on vendors that did not honor earlier contracts, saying states need to “stop doing business with vendors we found to be irresponsible.”

On the other side of the country, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) learned that lesson the hard way. On Thursday, his administration announced the state would be receiving a $247 million refund from a Chinese company it had contracted with to supply the Golden State with 200 million protective masks, with half being N-95 respirator masks and the rest being less protective surgical masks. But the company missed a deadline to have the N-95 masks certified by the U.S. government, leading to the refund. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, NEW YORK TIMES, CBS NEWS, NJ.COM)

Governors in Brief:

RI Gov Plans More COVID-19 Testing: Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced a plan to randomly select 5,000 households to test for the presence of antibodies that develop when someone has fought off the coronavirus. Raimondo said the state plans to gradually increase testing to 10,000 a day by July and 20,000 a day by September, which she described as necessary for opening schools and colleges. (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL)

IL Gov Unveils Five-point Reopening Plan: Saying “We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) unveiled a five-point plan for reopening the Prairie State economy. The phases started with the rapid spread of the disease and end with all phases of daily life returning to normal. (ILLINOIS GOVERNOR’S OFFICE) 

MI Gov Creates Racial Disparity Task Force: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an executive order that creates a working group tasked with addressing the disproportionate impact on people of color by the COVID-19 virus. Whitmer said she expects the group to “identify the factors driving this disparity and to identify actions we can take to create a more equitable Michigan for everyone.” (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

IA Gov Opens Dentist Offices: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) issued an executive order that allows Hawkeye State dental offices to open providing they have adequate inventories of personal protective equipment (PPE) and access to a reliable supply chain without relying on state or local PPE stockpiles. (DECORAH NEWS)

OK Lawmakers Extend Gov’s Emergency Powers: The Oklahoma Legislature extended Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) emergency powers by 30 days, but asked the governor to provide them with a list of which actions stem from powers granted through the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act and which actions Stitt took outside of those powers. Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat (R) said it wasn’t really a request, noting “I would stand ready to terminate” the authorization if Stitt doesn’t comply. (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHMA CITY], TULSA WORLD)

Judge Blocks KY Gov’s Travel Ban: A federal judge issues a preliminary injunction blocking Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s (D) order that restricted out of state travel and prohibited in-person church services within his ban on mass gatherings. The order from U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman will remain in place until further action from the court. (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER)

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs SB 3007, a bill that grants immunity to Beehive State business from lawsuits claiming workers or customers contracted the coronavirus on their property (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). NEW MEXICO Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announces that employees at restaurants and retail businesses occupying a 50,000-square-foot area will be required to wear masks or face coverings (LAS CRUCES SUN NEWS). MICHIGAN Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issues EO 2020-70, which allows for the resumption of construction and real estate activities in the Wolverine State as of May 7 as long as those operations adopt a set of best practices to protect workers from infection (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issues EO N-62-20, which presumes that workers who contract the COVID-19 virus were infected on the job and puts the burden on employers to prove otherwise. The order lasts for two months and applies to workers who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of Newsom’s March 19 shelter-in-place order (CAL MATTERS, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Education: NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says Garden State K-12 schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year while officials battle the COVID-19 pandemic (NJ.COM). CONNECTICUT Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announces Constitution State K-12 schools also will remain shuttered throughout the rest of the academic year (NBC CONNECTICUT [HARTFORD]).

Health & Science: VERMONT Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announces that hospitals can resume elective procedures and nonessential appointments, presuming they follow a list of conditions that include pre-screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms and requiring all patients to wear face masks (VERMONT DIGGER). MINNESOTA Gov. Tim Waltz (D) signs an EO 20-51, which allows doctors, dentists, and veterinarians who create a plan to keep patients and healthcare professionals safe to begin performing elective procedures again (MINNESOTA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). The OHIO House adds an amendment to Senate-approved SB 1 that would limit orders issued by the Ohio Department of Health to 14 days and require legislative approval for any extensions. House lawmakers also amend SB 55 to lower the penalties for violating DOH orders to a minor misdemeanor, which impose a smaller fine. The bills return to the Senate (COLUMBUS DISPATCH). PENNSYLVANIA Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issues an executive order that provides health care workers with civil immunity from liability for good faith actions taken in response to the call to supplement the health care provider workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic (PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Social Policy: The MINNESOTA Senate endorses HF 745, a bill that would make the Gopher State the third to raise the legal age to marry to 18 without exceptions. It returns to the House for concurrence (MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE).

Local Front: NEW YORK CITY Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announces the city will begin to limit entry into some of the city’s parks as a means for reducing overcrowding as it tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus (NEW YORK TIMES).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Other News, Views & a Riff or Two

CA Sues Uber and Lyft: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft for refusing to classify over half a million drivers as employees. Becerra was joined in the suit by the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, who allege the gig companies’ behavior is robbing workers of wages and benefits while allowing the companies to skip out on duly-owed taxes. (CAL MATTERS [SACRAMENTO])

AZ Orders Stop to COVID-19 Research: The Arizona Department of Health Services told a modeling team of about two dozen professors at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona to “pause” its work. The universities’ model indicated the state should wait until the end of May to reopen the state economy. A spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said the governor is relying on multiple models in his decision to allow businesses to reopen on May 8. (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX])

CA Gov Says Virus Started in a Nail Salon: In his daily briefing on Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the spread of the COVID-19 virus began in a nail salon. Newsom offered no further specifics. The news comes as several states are allowing nail salons, gyms and hair salons to lead their reopenings. (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN