A Long and Winding Road
Jul 29, 2020


The Senate unveiled a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package, a measure that markedly differs from a $3 trillion relief package passed by the House in May.  This week, we make our way down the long road that winds through the bi-cameral versions of coronavirus relief.   



If the Senate bill passes in its current form, then Congressional rules require the House and Senate to come together in a caucus committee to reconcile differences in the two bills. The pending deadline on unemployment insurance is July 31 and Congress plans to leave for recess on August 7.  Lawmakers will have a limited window to approve a new stimulus package. 



Starting on common ground, both proposals allocate another round of $1,200 direct payments to American families, duplicating a provision in the stimulus law enacted in March.  The House proposal would allow undocumented immigrants to receive money, undoing language that prohibited payments to anyone who filed taxes jointly with someone who used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The House bill would also increase the amount of money per child to $1,200 for up to three children per family. The Senate proposal would maintain the $500 amount set in the first stimulus, but also allow adult dependents to qualify.



There is also bipartisan interest to fund coronavirus testing and treatment.  The Senate bill earmarks $16 billion and the House bill allocates $75 billion. Republicans would also allocate $26 billion to vaccine development.



A major disagreement in the proposals is liability protection for employers.  The Senate bill imposes liability protection from suits involving COVID-19 exposure to businesses that make reasonable efforts to comply with public health guidelines and did not engage in “grossly negligent” behavior. Liability protections would shield schools, companies, and health care providers from lawsuits related to coronavirus exposure and treatment between December 2019 and October 2024.



Funding for local and tribal governments is the centerpiece of the House legislation. Democrats argue that governments will need another major infusion of relief to keep essential workers on payrolls and make up for the loss of revenue after decreased tourism and spending during the pandemic. The Senate bill does not set aside specific funding for state, local, and tribal governments, though it grants more flexibility for how states spent previously allocated funds.



Turning to schools, the House passed its version of COVD-19 just as schools were finishing the spring semester.  Today, schools are determining if, or how, to begin another academic year safely.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that the House will look to increase school funding up to the $105 billion figure contained in the Senate bill.  However, restriction on the use of that funding is up for debate.  The Senate bill calls for $5 billion for governors to use at their discretion and $30 billion for colleges and universities. The remaining $70 billion would go to elementary and secondary schools, with two-thirds of the relief designated for schools that have begun reopening and holding in-person classes. 


Safety Agencies


In related news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines with a heavy focus on reopening schools in the fall.  The CDC recommends that schools follow a certain level of precautions based on the amount of community transmission in their area. The CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable, including students, teachers, and administrators. The CDC’s recommendations include socially distancing school children through cohorts or “pods,” and other measures to limit possible transmission of the coronavirus, including a variant of contact tracing



Since the outbreak of COVID-19, health care facilities around the nation have seen unprecedented numbers of federal and state workplace safety inspections.  In other industry news, food services workers in Pennsylvania took novel steps to file a federal lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia for failing to protect essential workers from dangerous conditions that could expose them to the coronavirus. The suit relies on a rarely used provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act that allows workers to sue the secretary of labor for “arbitrarily or capriciously” failing to counteract imminent dangers.  We’ll be following this case.


Making Our Way Around the Country


Legislators have proposed expanded workers’ compensation eligibility for employees diagnosed with COVID-19. Senate Bill 1159 would add coronavirus-related illness or death to the list of on-the-job injuries covered under the state’s workers’ compensation program while removing a requirement that workers prove they contracted the virus on the job. Instead, employers would have to prove that COVID-19 wasn’t contracted in the workplace.  Governor Newsom’s Executive Order that created a temporary rebuttable presumption expired on July 5, 2020.



In a split decision, the Supreme Court rejected a Nevada church’s request that it block the state government from enforcing a cap on attendance at religious services. The church argued that the Nevada rule violated its First Amendment rights. The ruling marks the second time the high court blocked an effort from a church to invalidate state restrictions on attendance.  In May, the court ruled 5-4 in a similar case to reject a challenge from a California church.



Hurricane Hanna made landfall this week near Houston lashing the Texas Gulf Coast with severe winds and surging sea levels.  Hanna is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic storm season.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) issued a disaster declaration for 32 counties in Texas in the storm’s path.  Governor Abbott said, “This challenge is complicated and made even more severe, seeing that it’s sweeping through an area that is the most challenged area in the state for COVID-19.”   In related news, Hurricane Douglas slipped 25 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands this week.  Douglas would have been only the third hurricane in modern history to make landfall in Hawaii.



Legislation passed in Albany that would establish a registry of workplace construction-related fatalities in the Empire State. The measure would require companies to record information pertaining to all fatal incidents, mandate the filing of 72-hour and 90-day reports pertaining to such workplace fatalities, and would requires the department of labor to publish such reports on the department's website.



Back to our main story this week, Congress passed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act to address the growing infrastructure maintenance backlog in U.S. national parks and other federal lands.  The measure includes $9.5 billion over the next five years and sources of increasing revenue streams to the National Parks. It now goes to the White House and President Trump is expected to sign the bill in law.  Enjoy the walk, and we hope you #FindYourPark this summer.  Until next week, stay well, stay safe, and stay connected. 


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