(March 27, 2020) - As the coronavirus continues to spread, federal lawmakers and agencies are addressing hoarding, fraud and the return of detained immigrants, while states are retooling statutes and regulations to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order March 23 (2020 WL 1429755) delegating to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar authority under the Defense Production Act of 1950, 50 U.S.C.A. § 4501, to prevent hoarding of health and medical resources necessary to the nation’s COVID-19 response.
U.S. attorneys from Michigan (2020 WL 1430136) and many other jurisdictions issued warnings about COVID-19 scam artists and complied with the U.S. Justice Department’s directive to appoint coronavirus fraud coordinators.
The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020 (2019 CONG US S 3440), introduced March 11 by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or., would require states to adopt contingency plans to prevent COVID-19 from disrupting federal elections. On the same day, U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Or.; Suzan DelBene, D-Wa.; and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., introduced a companion bill (2019 CONG US HR 6202).
U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., on March 12 introduced a bill (2019 CONG US HR 6222) seeking to amend Section 2713(b) of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 300gg-13(b), to require group health plans and health insurance to cover items, services and immunizations relating to diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19 within 15 days of the issuance of an official federal recommendation.
The Justice Department on March 23 announced (2020 WL 1428858) that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will no longer detain illegal immigrants in holding facilities but will immediately return them to the country they entered from or their country of origin. The department said CBP apprehends between 7,000 and 9,000 people at U.S. ports of entry every week.
The U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division on March 24 announced (2020 WL 1430157) its first round of published guidance to employees and employers on sick or medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which Trump signed March 18. The guidance answers questions such as how businesses can determine coverage under the FFCRA, how small businesses can obtain exemptions and how companies can calculate employees’ wages under the law.
The Securities and Exchange Commission on March 23 (2020 WL 1429545) relaxed rules under the Investment Company Act of 1940 affecting the ability of certain management investment firms and insurance companies to borrow funds from affiliates to cope with the effects of COVID-19 on the financial markets.
State legislative and regulatory actions
A suite of bills proposed by Democratic New York state Sen. James Sanders Jr. on March 23 would grant all people free COVID-19 testing regardless of insurance or immigration status (2019 NY S.B. 8123) and mandate that airlines and travel insurance companies provide refunds for travel canceled due to COVID-19 (2019 NY S.B. 8124). The bills would also suspend certain residential and small-business rental payments (2019 NY S.B. 8125) and suspend loans and mortgages from state-chartered banks and credit unions for restaurants and other small businesses that close or reduce operations due to the pandemic (2019 NY S.B. 8109).
More than a dozen bills in the Ohio Legislature addressed subjects as diverse as a $20 million appropriation to support homeless shelters and provide emergency rental assistance in response to the pandemic (2019 OH H.B. 578) and designating COVID-19 an occupational disease under state workers’ compensation law when contracted by emergency responders under certain circumstances (2019 OH H.B. 571).
Several states, including North Carolina (2020 WL 1432026) and Rhode Island (2020 WL 1430070), ordered moratoriums on utility cutoffs for nonpayment.
Wisconsin on March 23 modified its unemployment insurance regulations to allow claimants to collect unemployment if they are quarantined or perceived by their employers as showing COVID-19 symptoms (2020 WI REG TEXT 549855).
On the same day, the state authorized a moratorium on new admissions to the state prisons and juvenile facilities operated by the Department of Corrections for the duration of the emergency (2020 WI REG TEXT 549857).