Should States Continue to Shelter in Place or Begin to Reopen?

AShelter in Places COVID-19 has spread across the country and the globe, most U.S. states have taken to issuing shelter-in-place orders to help “flatten the curve.” As of April 20, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had asked residents to stay at home. However, over the past two weeks, there has been an increase in protests against these orders, with some governors considering reopening their states for the sake of the economy.1

For additional information on stay-at-home orders, check out this breakdown from the New York Times.2

There is a growing fear across many states that continuing to ask residents to stay at home will doom small businesses, force people into poverty, and cause irreparable damage to the economy. Some Americans have argued that they are being denied their liberties, including the freedoms to utilize public areas, to conduct business, and to buy items as they please.3 As a result of these protests, state government officials have begun considering their options for reopening their respective states.

In Georgia, one of the last states to implement a shelter-in-place order, Governor Brian Kemp is beginning to allow businesses to reopen despite warnings from health experts and President Donald Trump.4 Governor Kemp has stated that although there could still be a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, Georgia is now more prepared to handle the medical demands and to reopen certain institutions.5

Other states, including Tennessee and South Carolina, are also beginning to implement phased reopenings with certain restrictions on the capacity of stores and large gatherings. Still other states, such as Louisiana and Illinois, hope to reopen sooner rather than later, but they stress the importance of establishing strict guidelines before making decisions that could harm the public.6

As some states begin to reopen and others consider phased reopening plans, there are states that are moving in the opposite direction by extending their stay-at-home orders indefinitely. Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey has stated that there needs to be a “14-day trend of reduced cases before any reopening could take place.”7 Hawaii Governor David Ige has also warned that if public spaces open up too early, it will undo Hawaii’s progress in containing the virus.

As state leaders attempt to determine what is best for their residents in the face of this global pandemic, the status of shelter-in-place orders—and the level of outbreak and public protest—will continue to change and attract nationwide interest.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What shelter-in-place orders, if any, have been issued in your state?
  2. Do you think states should begin to reopen? All states? Some states? No states? Explain your answer.
  3. What do you think is most important for state leaders to consider regarding reopening their states?
  4. What businesses, if any, do you think should be the first to reopen in your state?
  5. Do you think everyday life will be the same after COVID-19? Why or why not?

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya
[1] Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/us/coronavirus-shutdown-what-states-have-protested-against-stay-at-home-orders
[2] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html?login=email&auth=login-email
[3] Ibid.
[4] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/27/us/coronavirus-reopenings/index.html
[5] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/20/politics/georgia-brian-kemp-reopen-businesses-coronavirus/index.html
[6] Ibid.
[7] Fox 6 Now: https://fox6now.com/2020/04/27/nj-stay-at-home-order-continued-indefinitely/

 

Revisiting the Minimum Wage

Inequality has been a central issue of the 2020 presidential campaign, with many of the candidates including economic and income equity as major elements of their message.1 The COVID-19 outbreak has also placed economic inequality in the spotlight. While many professionals and white-collar workers are able to work from home, employees in the service industry are either continuing to work or going without pay.2

For additional background on COVID-19 and inequality, see our posts about the virus’ impact on homeless people and the initial impact of the outbreak.

Minimum Wage Map

In this atmosphere created by the outbreak and a presidential election, legislation to raise the federal wage is receiving renewed attention. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, or $2.13 per hour for people who are largely paid in tips.3 However, 29 states and the District of Columbia currently have a higher minimum wage than the federal requirement.4

Legislation regarding COVID-19 is dominating the congressional agenda at present, but the debate over the minimum wage may again come to the forefront as the public health crisis subsides and the election heats up. One bill, the Raise the Wage Act, has passed in the House of Representatives; you can track its progress in the Senate here.

To foster greater understanding and deliberation, we have created a more detailed explanation of a minimum wage bill and the arguments for and against that bill. For the high school version, click here. For the middle school version, click here.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you or does anyone you know work a minimum wage job?
  2. Do you believe that inequality is a problem in the United States? Why or why not?
  3. Has your town or state created a minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum?
  4. Do you believe the federal minimum wage should be increased? Why or why not?
  5. Do you think this issue is better handled nationally or at the state level? Explain your reasoning.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Joe Castro/AAP
[1] Politico: https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/economy/income-inequality/

[2] Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-21/covid-19-divides-u-s-society-by-race-class-and-age

[3] U.S. Department of Labor: https://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/faq/esa/flsa/002.htm?_ga=2.135727985.132402296.1587567308-523200938.1587567308

[4] National Conference of State Legislatures: https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx

 

Should Congress Be Allowed to Vote Remotely?

US CongressDue to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 42 states—along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.—have issued stay-at-home orders, effectively barring at least 316 million Americans from going out unless absolutely necessary.1 While essential businesses and services remain open, many workers now find themselves working from home. Considering the circumstances, should Congress also be allowed to vote remotely?

The Constitution requires each chamber of Congress to have a quorum (a majority of members present) in order to conduct business, but it does not state that the members need to be physically present for the procedure of voting.2 However, this is a rule that was adopted by both the House of Representatives and the Senate over 200 years ago, as the chambers each have the authority to create and follow their own procedural rules.

In March, freshman Representative Katie Porter (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to House leadership requesting a temporary change to the rules to allow remote voting during this national emergency.3 Nearly 70 of Porter’s colleagues signed the letter in support of her request. “Unfortunately, during such circumstances, requiring Members to vote in person may pose public health risks or even be physically impossible for persons under quarantine,” wrote Porter. “We need to provide a mechanism through which Congress can act during times of crisis without having to assemble in one place.”4

Supporters of remote voting echo Porter’s concerns for safety. Four representatives and one senator have already tested positive for the virus, while other lawmakers have self-quarantined after coming into contact with a confirmed case.5 The demographics of Congress are also reason for concern, as older people are at higher risk of severe sickness due to COVID-19. According to the Congressional Research Service, 66 senators are over 60 years old, and the average age of a representative is 57.6 years.6 Some senior members are in their eighties. Members travel to Capitol Hill from all corners of the country and come into contact with many people in order to do their jobs. They should be practicing the same measures ordered by their states and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Remote voting could ensure that all members of Congress—even if quarantined—get to cast their votes while protecting the safety of their colleagues, staff members, families, and constituents. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) agrees. “There was a time when physical presence was the only way to make sure that a person was present and voting,” he said. “I think that technology gives us other options and we better exercise them.”7

However, Congress has a reputation for being slow to change, and there is a strong bipartisan consensus among congressional leadership that the House and Senate should not rush to adopt remote voting. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voiced her disapproval during a private meeting, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, “We’ll not be doing that. There are a number of different ways to avoid getting too many people together.”8 Instead, they suggest other measures to protect members, including extending the window of time for voting and limiting how many members can be on the floor at any given time. “We will deal with the social distancing issue without fundamentally changing Senate rules,” said McConnell.9

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are already using conference calls and larger meeting rooms to limit unnecessary contact and follow social distancing guidelines.10 Congress has never allowed remote voting before, so the body lacks the technological infrastructure that would be necessary to ensure a reliable and secure system. This unprecedented process would be costly and require an extensive amount of time to develop and perfect. Some worry that remote voting could lead to a deeper partisan divide, as fewer face-to-face interactions between members of different parties could mean less discussion and compromise.11 There are also concerns that such a practice could lead to a loss of productivity among members and weaken Congress’ overall effectiveness as an institution.

Outside the nation’s capital, state legislatures are implementing their own versions of remote voting, with the New Jersey Assembly allowing its members to phone in to vote for the first time in the state’s history.12 As Congress continues to debate supplemental bills for COVID-19 relief, it will surely continue to discuss the issue of remote voting as well.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which arguments do you think are strongest for allowing Congress to vote remotely?
  2. Which arguments do you think are strongest for not allowing Congress to vote remotely?
  3. What is your personal belief when it comes to remote voting? Why?
  4. As American life and major institutions continue to change and adapt during this outbreak, how important is it to maintain traditions such as deliberating and voting in person?
  5. What are some things that you expect will not “go back to the way they were” after social distancing is over?

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
[1] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html
[2] FiveThirtyEight: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/could-congress-vote-remotely-maybe-will-it-probably-not/
[3] Politico: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000171-084e-d8c8-a7f3-daff8a7a0000
[4] Ibid.
[5] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/19/politics/coronavirus-test-positive-lawmakers-list/index.html
[6] NBC: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/anxiety-aging-congress-spreads-along-coronavirus-n1152851
[7] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/babc89d36b8cba4907b2520353692a8d
[8] The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/488073-mcconnell-rejects-remote-voting
[9] Vox: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/3/18/21185412/congress-vote-remotely-coronavirus-katie-porter
[10] The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/488073-mcconnell-rejects-remote-voting
[11] FiveThirtyEight: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/could-congress-vote-remotely-maybe-will-it-probably-not/
[12] NorthJersey.com: https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2020/03/25/first-ever-phone-vote-nj-assembly-coronavirus-relief/5080933002/

 

Postponed Presidential Primaries and the Pandemic

Biden and SandersWith COVID-19 dominating both the headlines and the realities of everyday life in the United States, it can be hard to remember that we are in the midst of a presidential primary with a general election only seven months away.

The State of the Race

A little over a month ago, former Vice President Joe Biden surged to frontrunner status with a series of victories on March 3, winning 10 out of the 14 primaries held on Super Tuesday.1 By the following Tuesday, March 10, most remaining major candidates had withdrawn from the race, essentially creating a contest between Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Biden was victorious in all six states that day.2

Between the March 10 and March 17 primaries, the novel coronavirus began to impact the nation more severely, fueling a debate over whether or not states should continue to hold primary elections. Arizona, Illinois, Florida, and Ohio were slated to hold primaries, but Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) postponed his state’s primary until April 28, citing concerns about public safety.3 Arizona, Illinois, and Florida went forward with their primaries and Biden emerged victorious in all three races.4 The last primary results released before the publishing of this article were for the Democrats Abroad Primary, resulting in the first Sanders victory since Super Tuesday.5 At present, Biden holds 1,217 delegates to Sanders’ 914 delegates (1,991 delegates are needed to win the Democratic nomination).6

Primary WinnersPrimary Postponements

Sixteen states and territories have postponed their primaries, as more states issue stay-at-home orders and cases of COVID-19 continue to appear.7 In response to concerns over public gatherings and the delay in the primaries, the Democratic National Committee has rescheduled the Democratic National Convention to August 17, over a month later than originally planned. Observers have also begun to speculate over whether the party will hold an in-person convention at all, and to what extent it could be retooled into a virtual event should quarantines continue through the summer.8

What’s To Be Done?

States cannot delay their primaries indefinitely; all contests must be complete in time for the convention. June is usually the last month in which primary voting occurs; thus far, no state has scheduled its postponed primary beyond June 23.9 If social distancing orders remain in effect, voting by mail may be the only viable option. However, few states are currently equipped to switch to a vote-by-mail system. Voting by mail is also much slower, prone to oversights, and presents logistical challenges when not conducted properly.10

Some Democratic Party officials, political strategists, and voters have also questioned why Senator Sanders remains in the race.11 Currently, the political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight.com places Biden’s chance of winning the nomination at more than 99 percent; Sanders has less than a 0.1 percent chance, falling slightly below the chances of no one winning.12 However, even if Sanders were to drop out (and effectively decide the race for the Democratic presidential nomination), there are many other competitive primary contests for Congress and state/local offices that require voter input.13

Finally, questions surround the implications of a sustained pandemic on the general election. For one, the general election cannot be postponed as easily as primaries. According to the Constitution, only Congress has the ability to decide when the presidential election takes place. The current date is set by law, meaning that Congress would have to pass an entirely new law to change that date.14

Beyond this, there are two additional confounding factors. For one, the general election has never been postponed before.15 Second, the Constitution states that a new president must be sworn in no later than January 20, meaning that one way or another, the election must be held and results tabulated by that date.16 Changing these rules would require a constitutional amendment, which involves a lengthy process that requires even more voting. On top of that, the time period that elapses between the proposal and ratification of an amendment has historically ranged from a little over three months on the short end to almost 203 years.17

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think states should proceed with in-person primaries even if the COVID-19 pandemic continues into June?
  2. Should all states use a vote-by-mail system?
  3. What alternative solutions could states put forward to better ensure that people remain safe but also have their votes counted?
  4. Some have speculated that the alternative voting methods being put forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic could jeopardize the legitimacy of elections. What steps could states and the federal government take to put people at ease about the legitimacy of the 2020 election?

 

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/us/politics/biden-sanders-debate-recap.html
[1] Politico: https://www.politico.com/2020-election/results/super-tuesday/
[2] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/march-10-2020-primary-results/index.html
[3] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/us/politics/virus-primary-2020-ohio.html
[4] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/election-results/march-democratic-primaries-live-results/
[5] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-primary-elections/democrats-abroad-results
[6] Associated Press: https://interactives.ap.org/delegate-tracker/
[7] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/2020-campaign-primary-calendar-coronavirus.html
[8] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-2020-convention-virtual-wear-mask-public-amid/story?id=69971828
[9] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/2020-campaign-primary-calendar-coronavirus.html
[10] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2020/03/24/820232540/as-coronavirus-delays-primary-season-states-weigh-expanding-absentee-voting
[11] Politico: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/05/bernie-sanders-path-to-victory-165161
[12] FiveThirtyEight.com: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-primary-forecast/
[13] The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-campaign/608713/
[14] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/us/politics/election-postponed-canceled.html
[15] Ibid
[16] The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/04/us-2020-presidential-election-coronavirus-future
[17] Lexis Nexis: https://www.lexisnexis.com/constitution/amendments_factoids.asp