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Pandemic upends states’ legislative sessions

March 19, 2020

Postposed primary elections, shuttered schools, sheltering in place orders and millions of workers shifting to home offices while others are displaced completely — the COVID-19 pandemic is radically altering the way of life for the country. States, too, are scrambling to respond to the pandemic while dealing with ongoing legislative sessions and budget negotiations. Some of those responses are detailed here.

A number of states have already suspended their sessions including: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana (expected to last until March 31 at the earliest), Maine, Mississippi (until at least April 1 and possibly longer), Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, and New York are hoping to wrap up their sessions this week and expect to have passed an FY 2021 budget upon doing so.

Alabama lawmakers are currently on a scheduled spring break until March 31. It is unknown whether lawmakers will remain on break after that. Since the state's fiscal year doesn't end until September, there is no rush to advance or pass a state budget before then.

Arizona lawmakers advanced budget bills on March 17 and also voted to allow up to six legislators to vote remotely on any given day in the remaining session. Lawmakers expect to pass the budget within the next few days and recess until further notice.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear gave lawmakers an ultimatum — pass a budget within the next few days and recess, or recess and he'll call a special session later this spring/summer to deal with the state's next fiscal year spending plan. Lawmakers had suspended their session on March 12, but re-convened on March 17. Depending on the chamber leaders, an expedited budget can be passed by this Friday/Saturday or a budget can't be finalized until mid-next week.

In Massachusetts, where a House staff member tested positive for the virus, lawmakers have suspended public meetings and have been meeting in informal legislative sessions. And in Oklahoma, where someone in the state Senate also tested positive for COVID-19, Senate offices were closed and employees were working remotely.

The National Conference of State Legislatures is posting updates on its State Fiscal Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

coronavirus, state budgets, states