In June SNCJ reported that city and county governments had been prolific in their response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the first few months of the year, local governments had considered a multitude of COVID-19-related ordinances, with eviction moratoriums, small business assistance, and paid worker leave figuring prominently among them. There’s been no letup in the level of local government activity on the issue since then. And although cities and counties continue to have many of the same concerns as they had earlier in the year, there have been some notable shifts of focus.

As of SNCJ’s June report the roughly 240 major jurisdictions covered by LexisNexis State Net’s local government database had considered nearly 1,000 COVID-related ordinances and other actions. While the number of jurisdictions in the State Net database has grown by about 25 percent to just over 300 since then, the number of COVID-related ordinances and other local government actions has more than doubled.

California Cities Lead Broad COVID Response

Back in June, 18 local governments had filed ordinances to impose moratoriums on residential or commercial evictions, or both, for nonpayment of rent due to the pandemic, making such measures among the most common courses of local COVID-19 action. All of the filing jurisdictions, however, were located within a single state: California.

Some of those California cities and counties have since considered extending (Santa Barbara County 20-00563) or limiting their moratoriums (Sacramento 2020-00777), while other local governments in the state have proposed eviction moratoriums of their own. Perhaps more significant is that jurisdictions outside of California, including Anchorage, Alaska (2020-76), have now considered such ordinances as well.

“A lot of different groups like the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation have warned that if we don’t do anything, we’re going to see an eviction tsunami,” said Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, who proposed the city’s ordinance, according to local NBC-affiliate KTUU.

Although the Assembly reportedly passed a resolution urging action on the issue, it also rejected Rivera’s proposal because the city’s municipal attorney said there would be no way to enforce it at the local level.

More cities and counties have also considered other housing stabilization measures since June. They include rent assistance programs (Santa Barbara County 20-00463); prohibitions on rent increases (San Francisco 200578); homelessness prevention programs (Dallas 20-1244); and financial assistance programs for landlords whose tenants have been unable to pay their rent (San Francisco 200611).

Local Govs Prioritize Helping Small Businesses

Financial assistance for small businesses continues to be another primary focus of local governments. At least a half dozen jurisdictions, including Columbus, Ohio (1804-2020); Houston (02020-631); Norfolk, Virginia (02020-296); and Phoenix (20-1640); have proposed grant or other economic relief programs for small businesses in the last few months.

Cities and counties also continue to consider a variety of other measures to help local businesses, including suspending commercial rent taxes (Richmond County, NY 2007-2020); waiving business license fees (Oak Park Village, IL 20-042); reducing or eliminating the interest rate for late payment of property taxes by certain types of businesses (New York City 1974-2020); and authorizing the outdoor operation of restaurants to allow for social distancing (Philadelphia 200351).

In the first five months of the year, several local governments took up the issue of protecting workers impacted by COVID-19, such as by requiring paid leave associated with the disease. Since then San Francisco has proposed reenacting ordinances requiring private employers with 500 or more employees to provide leave (200576); requiring grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and delivery services to provide health and scheduling protections for employees (200609); and protecting workers who test positive or are quarantined for COVID-19 from adverse action (200765). Anchorage, meanwhile, filed an ordinance requiring large hotel employers to rehire workers laid off because of the pandemic (2020-84) and Los Angeles recommended retraining and reemploying workers impacted by the pandemic (Los Angeles County 20-3211). 

Public Health Concerns

One new area of concern for local governments is the wearing of face masks. Since June at least nine jurisdictions - including Omaha, Nebraska (42309); Milwaukee, Wisconsin (B168-20); and Columbus, Ohio (1807-2020) - have filed ordinances requiring the use of masks or other face coverings in public, while California’s Sonoma County (2020-0747) and Los Angeles County (20-3611) have addressed compliance with public health orders more broadly.

Cities and counties have also filed a host of other public health measures in recent months. The topics of consideration include: the opening of public beaches (New York City 1985-2020); the hours of operation for bars, night clubs and restaurants (Columbus 1821-2020); domestic violence (Phoenix 20-1755); opioid (Boston, MA 0731) and substance abuse (Sacramento 2020-00857); racial disparities in COVID-19 response (Los Angeles County 20-3036); food insecurity (New Orleans 32,983); increasing contact tracing capability (Kansas City, MO 200655); health and support services for persons living with HIV/AIDS (Jacksonville, FL 2020-0314); the testing of wastewater treatment plants for the presence of COVID-19 (New York City 1966-2020); the reporting of mental health cases related to COVID-19 (New York City 2005-2020); and the mental health of medical professionals (New York City 1968-2020).

The aim of the last of those actions, according to its text, is “to promote access to mental health counseling among healthcare professionals who may be dealing with the negative mental health effects, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder” of providing healthcare services during the pandemic, with New York City having been one of the hardest hit locations in the country. 

Keeping Government Afloat

There have also been a fair number of recent filings concerning local government employees. They include budget expenditures for computer hardware to meet the additional demand of public employees working from home (Santa Clara, CA 101746); the extension of hazard pay for front-line city workers (Atlanta 20-O-1415); a conditional 2 percent pay increase for municipal fire and police employees (Lafayette, LA CO-059-2020); funding for community policing (Boston 0752); and a prohibition on the taking of property or execution of money judgements by marshals and sheriffs (New York City 1912-2020).

Other recent proposals address the expansion of virtual courtroom capabilities (Los Angeles County 20-3005); plans for the resumption of in-person visitation at jails and other detention facilities (Los Angeles County 20-3204); personal protective equipment (PPE) for school districts (Kansas City 200698) and the reopening of schools (Buffalo, NY 20-936).

Finally, more than one jurisdiction has considered authorizing the acceptance of PPE or property donated by businesses and individuals (Boston 0801); providing funding for summer youth programs (Sacramento 2020-00678); and making election preparations, including relocating polling places (Cambridge, MA CMA 2020 #179) and bolstering vote-by-mail programs (DuPage County, IL FI-P-0194-20).

More election measures are likely to be filed as Nov. 3 approaches. And with the pandemic looking to extend well into next year at the very least, many more local COVID-related actions in general are undoubtedly on the way too.

For a free, sample report showing the current status of all the local ordinances mentioned in this story click here

-- By KOREY CLARK

 

Top COVID-19 Priorities for Local Governments

Since the start of the year, cities and counties in at least 13 states have considered ordinances to help businesses deal with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, including loan and grant programs and extensions of business tax filing deadlines, according to State Net’s local government database. A more recent priority for local governments has been the use of masks or other face coverings in public, which jurisdictions in nine states have considered requiring since the beginning of June.