Policy Analysis | May 2020

Coronavirus Impacts on State Legislatures and Elections

Mikko Lindberg, Anne Brody, Roger Moore, Cody Allen and Nick Bowman

Last updated: May 18, 2020

Alabama

On March 31, House members arrived at staggered times and reported directly to their offices. Speaker Mac McCutcheon cautioned members who had been sick or around someone sick not to attend. Department of Public Health employees checked temperatures at State House entrances to prevent anyone with a fever from entering the building. Members came to the House chamber in small groups, with ample space between members. The Senate followed similar social distancing guidelines. After reaching quorum in both chambers, the session was suspended until May 4.

The Senate General Fund Budget Committee convened on April 28 to pass a budget for fiscal year 2021. The $2.4 billion budget increases funding for Medicaid, Department of Public Health, and Department of Corrections. Committee members followed social distancing guidelines, with some wearing face masks.

The Legislature reconvened on Monday, May 4. Members of the media will be granted access, but in different locations than usual due to social distancing. The House of Representatives will offer live streaming video of the session, with the Senate offering live audio streaming. The Legislature adjourned sine die on May 18.

U.S. Senate Republican Runoff Election moved from March 31 to July 14.

Arkansas

The General Assembly convened for a special session on Thursday, March 26 and sine died on March 28. The session was limited to a single bill that would transfer $173 million in surplus funds to a special COVID-19 fund. In order to follow recommended public health guidelines for “social distancing,” the session will feature a unique format. The House met at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s basketball arena to allow members and staff to adequately space out. Meanwhile, the majority of the Senate gathered in the chamber at the Capitol, with 20 members evenly spread out on either side of the chamber, and the remaining 10 senators sitting upstairs in the gallery space. Members may designate a colleague as a proxy to vote on their behalf, if they are unable or unwilling to attend in person.

The fiscal session sine died on April 24. The General Assembly implemented the same arrangements previously used to comply with public health guidelines during the special session.

General Primary Runoff elections were held on March 31, as scheduled.

Florida

Session adjourned sine die on March 19.

Presidential Preference Primary election was held March 17, as scheduled. State primary election scheduled for August 18.

Georgia

The Georgia House of Representatives will resume session on Thursday, June 11. When the House reconvenes, they will observe safety guidelines recommended by the Georgia Building Authority and a bipartisan committee of house leaders formed to develop plans for reopening the Capitol.  Recommendations include limiting the number of entrances to the Capitol and legislative office building, installing temperature scanners -- and turning away those with body temperatures higher than 100.4 degrees -- and encouraging, but not requiring, wearing face masks.

In-person House committee meetings, previously scheduled to resume on May 18, will now resume on Tuesday, June 2.  Until then, committee hearings will continue to be held virtually.

The Senate has not yet announced a date of return.

The state’s primary election has been postponed until June 9. At that time, voters will chose candidates for president, Congress, the General Assembly, county commission, sheriff and other offices. Primary runoffs are scheduled for August 11.

Kentucky

The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 150, a COVID-19 response bill, on March 26 and sine died on April 15.

General Primary Elections moved from May 19 to June 23.

Louisiana

The Louisiana Legislature reconvened on Monday, May 4. Lawmakers are expected to focus on spending bills, legislation directly addressing COVID-19 and measures to help the state’s economy. The session is scheduled to end on June 1, though a special session could be called and held immediately afterwards.

Presidential Preference Primary election postponed from April 4 to July 11.

Mississippi

The Legislature reconvened on May 1 to pass a bill allocating funds for emergency expenses. State medical officials took the temperatures of and distributed masks and hand sanitizer to all entering the Capitol. Anyone with a temperature above 100.1 was asked to leave. After passing the bill, the Legislature adjourned until May 7.

Republican U.S. Senate primary runoff moved from March 31 to June 23. Special election for House District 88 has been postponed from April 21 to June 23

Missouri

Session adjourned sine die on May 15.

The Presidential Preference Primary election was held on March 10.

North Carolina

The General Assembly convened on Tuesday, April 28, for their short session, held on even-numbered years and usually focused on second-year adjustments to the state’s biennial budget cycle. Lawmakers spent the first week of session directing $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding, then adjourned for two weeks. The General Assembly reconvened on May 18.

The House is providing live video streams of its floor proceedings and remote committee meetings. Its members also adopted several procedural rule changes to facilitate voting processes during social distancing.

State and federal primary elections were held Tuesday, March 3, and certified Friday, March 20.

State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell used her emergency powers to postpone the state’s only runoff election by six weeks. Now, the second Republican primary for U.S. House District 11 is set for Tuesday, June 23. Several western counties are reducing their number of polling places and seeking rule changes and state funding for election staff, protective gear, cleaning supplies and mail-in ballot processing.

Oklahoma

The Legislature convened for a special session on Monday, April 6, to approve Governor Stitt’s declaration of a statewide health emergency, which grants the governor additional powers under the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act. Under the declaration, the governor has the authority to waive statutory and regulatory requirements and redirect state agency or employee efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The governor also will be able to activate the Oklahoma National Guard and transfer up to $50 million in state funds to respond to the crisis. The emergency declaration lasts for 30 days and the Legislature will be able to reconvene the special session at any time to revoke the declaration.

The Legislature convened on Monday, May 4, at 1:30 PM. to address the FY 2021 budget and a handful of other legislative priorities. Lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to sine die by 5:00 PM on Friday, May 29. The session adjourned sine die on May 15.

During the session, the Capitol was open to the public with several safety precautions in place. Visitors were screened by a medical professional for symptoms of COVID-19 upon entry, public health and infectious disease experts from the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center implemented social distancing protocols throughout the building and everyone were encouraged to wear masks. The lobbies of the House and Senate chambers were closed, while events, Capitol tours and large groups remain prohibited. Access to chamber galleries, committee meeting rooms and other areas throughout the Capitol were controlled by safety personnel to ensure adequate social distancing.

Previously, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 661, which temporarily expands the state’s Open Meetings Act to include video and teleconferencing. These special provisions will terminate on November 15, 2020, or at the end of Oklahoma’s statewide emergency designation, whichever comes first.

The Presidential Preference Primary election was held on March 3.

South Carolina

The General Assembly adjourned on Tuesday, May 12. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene for a special session in mid-September to pass a new budget and take up legislation that was passed by either chamber earlier in the year.

The State Election Commission announced that the June 9 state and congressional primaries will proceed as scheduled.

Texas

No legislative session in 2020. Primary held as scheduled on March 3. Runoff elections, originally scheduled for May 26, are postponed until July 14. Early voting will begin June 29.

Tennessee

Lawmakers recessed their annual session on March 19 after passing an emergency budget. They are scheduled to return June 1.

No changes impacting statewide primaries, general elections, or the 2020 presidential election have been announced.

The Presidential Preference Primary election was held on Tuesday, March 3, and primaries for the House and Senate are scheduled for Thursday, August 6.

Virginia

Session adjourned sine die on Thursday, March 12.

West Virginia

Session adjourned sine die on March 7. May 12 state primary election postponed to June 9.

State Session sine died Session Suspended/Delayed Federal/State Elections Rescheduled Special Accommodations for Legislators
Alabama Yes, on May 18 Reconvened on May 4 U.S. Senate Republican Runoff Election moved from March 31 to July 14 Social distancing guidelines
Arkansas Yes, special session on March 28, fiscal session on April 24 No General Primary Runoff scheduled for March 31 House met at UA Little Rock basketball arena
Florida Yes, on March 19 No Presidential Primaries held on March 17 None
Georgia No Yes, House will resume on June 11, Senate hasn't announced a return date Primaries postponed from May 19 to June 9 Limiting number of entrances to the Capitol and legislative office building, installing temperature scanners, and encouraging wearing face masks.
Kentucky Yes, on April 15 No General Primary Elections moved from May 19 to June 23 None
Louisiana No Reconvened on May 4 Presidential Primaries postponed from April 4 to July 11 Leaders are encouraging legislators to work via email and telephone to refine legislation until reconvening
Mississippi No Yes, suspended until May 7 Congressional Elections moved to June 23 Taking temperature of and issuing masks and hand sanitizer to all entering the Capitol
Missouri Yes, on May 15 Convened on April 27 No None
North Carolina No Convened on April 28, reconvened on May 18 State and federal primary elections held on March 3, U.S. House District 11 Runoff scheduled for June 23

The House is providing live video streams of its floor proceedings and remote committee meetings. Its members also adopted several procedural rule changes to facilitate voting processes during social distancing.

Oklahoma Yes, on May 15 Special session convened April 6, reconvened on May 4 Presidential Primaries held on March 3 House of Representatives has authorized proxy voting. Open Meetings Act expanded to included video and teleconferencing. Visitors will be screened by a medical professional for symptoms of COVID-19 upon entry. Social distancing protocols will be enforced throughout the building and everyone will be encouraged to wear masks. The Capitol will be disinfected daily in accordance with clinical cleaning protocols. 
South Carolina Yes, on May 12 No None None
Tennessee No Yes, until June 1 Presidential primaries held on March 3, primaries for House and Senate scheduled for August 6 None
Texas No session in 2020 n/a Primary held on March 3. Runoff elections scheduled for May 26 are postponed until July 14 None
Virginia Yes, on March 12 No No None
West Virginia Yes, on March 7 No May 12 state primary election postponed to June 9 None