YOU WERE ALWAYS ON MY MIND
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting 218 countries and territories around the world with more than 59 million people infected by COVID-19 and almost 1.4 million people have died of the virus. Since the pandemic began in the United States, more than 12.2 million people have been infected and more than 256,000 people have died of the virus. The United States has reported over 20 days in a row of more than 100,000 new cases. We’ll take a look back on COVID-19 legislation, regulations, and executive orders so far this year.
DON’T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME
Nearly all Americans were under stay-at-home orders at some point this year to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In May, states that had imposed a stay-at-home order or shelter in place had begun lifting the restrictions of businesses and public spaces through phased reopening plans. States are once again rolling back reopening plans and issuing state-at-home advisories as coronavirus cases surge.
By either executive order or legislation, at least 15 states around the country have created different rebuttable presumptions that the contraction of COVID-19 is work-related. In some states, the presumption only applies to first responders. In others, it’s essential workers or specific industries. In Wyoming, it covers all workers. And in California, the presumption applies only during an outbreak. Be on the lookout as more states are already looking at passing a COVID-19 presumption next year.
States moved to protect businesses from civil lawsuits as they were in the process of reopening. At least seven states have passed broad COVID-19 immunity laws granting most businesses immunity from damages or injury claims resulting from actual or alleged COVID-19 exposure during a business operation. Most of the laws require a business to act in good faith and follow the instructions of health officials for the immunity to apply. This will also be an issue in 2021 that states will be looking at to provide relief to businesses.
In March, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill into law. The CARES Act provided billions of dollars in relief to industries, a significant boost to unemployment insurance, and direct cash payments to Americans. The legislation also provided $100 billion to hospitals; $350 billion to small businesses; $500 billion to corporations, including airline companies and cruise lines; and about $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds. However, many of those programs and funds are set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress can come together to pass another COVID-19 relief bill. As always, we’ll let you know if anything develops in this area.
WITH MORE STATES ALLOWING IT
Legalizing marijuana won big in state elections. Voters approved recreational marijuana in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, and approved its use for medicinal purposes in Mississippi and South Dakota. Fifteen states, plus Washington DC, accept its use for recreational usage and 34 states now approve marijuana for medicinal use.
HOW IS THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY HANDLING IT?
It’s tricky. This year the Supreme Court of Massachusetts held that employees using medical marijuana for treatment for a work-related injury cannot get reimbursed for it through workers’ compensation since it’s still illegal under federal law. However, other states, like New Jersey, are introducing laws that would require workers’ compensation and personal injury protection (PIP) auto insurance benefits to cover medical marijuana under certain circumstances. The House announced that it will vote in December on a bill – the MORE Act – that would effectively legalize marijuana federally by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the U.S. experienced a record 17 natural disasters this year, each with damages over $1 billion. In another record-breaking season, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced 30 named storms and 12 landfalling storms in the continental U.S. The U.S. formally withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord this month and rolled back more than 70 environmental regulations during the Trump administration. President-elect Biden committed to re-enter the agreement after he takes office in 2021. Climate change led the last Davos meeting but a survey of CEOs at the time didn’t even rank climate change issues among the top 10 threats to business growth. However, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report has climate change in the number one spot for long-term risks.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finalized the Hours of Service (HOS) final rule that revised the prescribed driving limits for commercial motor vehicle drivers and went into effect on Sept. 29, 2020. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued its final rule allowing railroads to use ultrasonic inspection technology, augmented with global positioning system (GPS) technology, to be used in continuous rail testing. These updated regulations are expected to improve safety by making it easier for railroads to test rail more frequently and to identify and repair internal rail flaws before conditions degrade safety. And, proponents suggest that these reforms will allow rail testing vehicles to move without stopping along the track, potentially decreasing passenger and freight train delays associated with routine inspections. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed its final regulations on streamlined commercial space launch and re-entry license requirements. The 785-page regulation consolidates four separate regulations and will apply a single set of licensing and safety rules for all vehicle operations. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the regulations, which had not been updated in more than a decade, will “better facilitate commercial space transportation while protecting national security and maintaining public safety.”
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S. We extend our warmest gratitude to our readers and the industry. In a difficult year, we thank you for allowing us to connect with you and being a part of the insurance industry. From all of us at The Way, have a blessed holiday! Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.