The General Assembly returned to session last week, working quickly to pass legislation to respond to the pandemic. As protests took place in the streets urging the state to re-open, legislators met to consider various policy and spending proposals related to COVID-19. Precautions were taken during session, and the general public was not allowed in the legislative buildings, although more video of the proceedings was available.
The Senate began its work with bipartisan legislation, while the House started from the draft legislation prepared by the House Select Committee on COVID-19 working groups. Once both chambers passed their bills, they moved to conference on House Bill 1043, Pandemic Response Act, which appropriates over $1.5 billion in relief funding, and Senate Bill 704, Covid-19 Recovery Act, which covers a number of policy changes in unemployment, tax reform, education, health care and government operations. On Saturday, both chambers approved compromised versions of both bills, sending them to the Governor for his signature and he signed them into law on Monday.
Though the telehealth parity language championed by the House Health Care Working Group did not make it into the final bills adopted by the General Assembly, the final legislation did include a number of helpful provisions including temporary limited liability for health care workers; funding for supplies, equipment, and PPE; funding for COVID-19 research; 5% increase in the Medicaid fee-for-service rates; funding to divert individuals in mental health crisis from emergency departments, funding to DHHS to support telehealth; and flexibility to allow first and second examinations for involuntary commitment to be conducted via telehealth.
House and Senate members are expected to return to the Legislature in two weeks to continue work on round two of COVID-19 response legislation. Read the full report here.