photo illustration with us capitol and covid-19 vaccine vials

At the top of legislative agendas nationwide this week: Lawmakers continue their back-and-forth over COVID-19 restrictions.

First Branch News | NCSL’s Weekly Roundup of Legislative Headlines

By Gene Rose | Feb. 5, 2021 | State Legislatures Magazine

First Branch News is NCSL’s weekly roundup of legislative headlines from news sources across the country and throughout the territories.

COVID-19 and State Legislative Operations

Restrictions on public access were in place for the opening of the Nevada Legislature’s 2021 session. The Wyoming Legislature plans to start its session March 1, which will allow members to participate in person or remotely. The West Virginia Legislature is working on rules for public access as it prepares for its session. Protocols for the Oklahoma Legislature’s session were announced this week. The Rhode Island House adopted new operating procedures this week. A second case of COVID-19 was confirmed at the Iowa Capitol. Illinois lawmakers plan to work via video this spring. The Ohio Senate will enforce social distancing in committee rooms. And the Alaska Senate approved remote voting for members if required during the pandemic.

Authority of State Legislatures

Power struggles between the legislative and executive branches continued this week. Indiana lawmakers are considering moves to restrict the governor’s emergency authority. New Mexico lawmakers also considered curbing the governor’s power. A Kentucky court decision temporarily blocked the legislature’s attempt to curb the governor’s COVID-related rules; simultaneously, the legislature is considering overriding the governor’s vetoes of bills to limit his powers. The Idaho Senate also is considering a bill to trim the governor’s emergency powers. The Missouri House refused to allow the governor to deliver his annual State of the State address in the House chamber, as is tradition.

In other actions taken by legislatures this week, the Alaska House is working to assemble its leadership team. The Maine Legislature is joining about a half dozen other states that will allow a request for racial impact statements on certain bills, as did the D.C. Council. Texas turned back requests to restrict guns in the Capitol this session.

State Legislators and Staff in the News

Robin Bates, the Nevada State Assembly’s sergeant-at-arms, died from COVID-19 at the start of the legislature’s session. Alabama Senator Greg Reed (R) was elected the chamber’s president pro tempore. Maine Senator Eloise Vitelli (D) was elected Senate majority leader. Arizona Representative Arlando Teller (D), a member of the Navajo Nation, resigned his seat to accept a position in the Biden administration. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) called for more political civility. Previewing the 2021 session, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) spoke of ties that both bind and divide lawmakers. Massachusetts Ronald Mariano (D) named a number of key staff for his office. The Virgin Islands Legislature has hired a new executive director, Kurell Hodge. House speakers in Illinois and Rhode Island announced their leadership teams. Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) reflected on her first year as the chamber’s leader.

Other News

North Dakota is considering an expansion of its Capitol’s Legislative Wing. Missouri legislators will receive a slight increase in pay for the first time in over a decade.

From NCSL’s Digital Newsroom This Week

Articles from news sources curated in First Branch News are provided for information purposes only and do not reflect NCSL views.

Gene Rose is NCSL’s communications director.

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