Legislative measures are on hold in half the states of the US due to the COVID-19 emergency, with most suspending activity until at least mid-April.

25 states have suspended activity due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, with a congressional member in Michigan believed to be the first legislator at state or federal level to die from the virus. A number of states, including Louisiana, Colorado and New Hampshire, have all already extended suspension periods. More with tentative return dates upcoming are expected to follow suit.

Four states Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Vermont, which had initially been suspended continue to operate relatively normally, though all have instituted some form of social distancing measures. These range from closing public galleries to creating quarantine rooms for legislators reporting symptoms but wishing to attend sessions.

One state – Arkansas – chose to move its legislative session forward from 8th April to 26th March in order to address the impact the virus is having on the state. The session will continue until the legislature “creates a COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund; transfers funds to the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund; and declares an Emergency”. Legislators are using a basketball arena for meetings in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.


Remote voting


It has been argued that more states should look at remote voting measures in order to be able to pass legislation beyond bare bones budget and virus-related measures.

Only two states – Pennsylvania and New Jersey – have utilised such methods to continue regular work. South Dakota also used remote voting to conclude its legislative session.

This approach has been criticised in other states, such as Rhode Island, for limiting the public’s ability to follow the legislative process and for the limitations it places on public testimony and comment.

New York has shelved some legislation due to lack of time – though the state is looking at remote voting measures.

12 of the remaining states had already adjourned sine die – essentially finished with this legislative session prior to the need to suspend due to coronavirus. Another, North Carolina, does not have any legislative sessions scheduled until 28th April but has suspended committee activities.

Four further states – Texas, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota only meet biannually so do not have any sessions scheduled for 2020.


What This Means: With most suspended legislative bodies only confirming closures up to mid-April it is difficult to say what kind of impact the shutdown will have through the year. But with president Donald Trump recently announcing social distancing and other measures being extended until the end of April it seems unlikely many will choose to end their adjournments.

A few have constitutional minimums in terms of number of days in session or pieces of legislation that must be passed with upcoming deadlines – meaning either remote working or resumption in some limited form.

Overall it is safe to say that for the vast majority of US states little other than budget concerns and matters related to the pandemic will be addressed for the foreseeable future. This in turn will cram all remaining proposals into increasingly limited timeframes – leading to prioritisation for the most important items.

Whether those impacting the tobacco industry will feature is more difficult to predict. Public health and revenue – both potential areas with a sector interest – are likely to feature as states look to minimise impacts beyond the coronavirus and shore up straitened finances. But whether measures within those categories touch upon tobacco issues will be addressed is still up in the air.

AlabamaSuspended until 28th April

Recessed instead of adjourned – leaving the door open to reconvening before the session must end 20th May but considered unlikely

ArizonaSuspended until 13th April

Special session declared: The 2020 legislative session scheduled to open 8th April was moved forward to 26th March. The session will continue until the legislature “creates a COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund; transfers funds to the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund; and declares an Emergency.” Apparently using a basketball arena to adhere to social distancing.

CaliforniaSuspended until 13th April
ColoradoSuspension likely to last until at least 13th April

Postponed until 13 April


Suspended indefinitely


Adjourned sine die


Adjourned indefinitely


Indefinite suspension


Adjourned sine die


Cancelling week by week


Adjourned sine die


Suspended until 15th April


Suspended until 27th April with official end of the legislative session slated for 21st May

KentuckyWill reconvene for last two days of session on 14th and 15th April

Suspension expected to be extended to 13th April following a one-day session where any bills wanting to be filed before an evening deadline are read


Adjourned sine die


Adjourned sine die


Apparently working regularly in informal sessions so with fewer members present. This has still allowed some legislation through but bigger or more contentious items cannot be done this way


Suspension extended indefinitely. What’s thought to be the first death of a congressional member at state or federal level could lead to a more conservative approach


Suspended until 14th April


Reconvening suspended with no new specific date stated


Rolling weekly cancellations with session to end 15th May. Special sessions will have to be held for state budget approval but it seems unlikely much else would be addressed


Biannual legislative sessions so none scheduled in 2020

NebraskaIndefinite suspension affecting petition for cannabis liberalisation

Biannual legislative sessions so none scheduled in 2020

New Hampshire

Suspended until 4th May

New Jersey

Working remotely

New Mexico

Adjourned sine die

New York

Suspended until further notice, working on remote voting measuresdefinitely impacting cannabis legalisation measures

North Carolina

Not yet in session; committees suspended

North Dakota

Biannual legislative sessions so none scheduled in 2020


Operating relatively normally


Ongoing suspension must end by last Friday in May according to constitution


Adjourned sine die


Working remotely

Rhode Island

Suspended until 6th April – request for remote session not looked upon favourably

South Carolina

Week by week decision with indefinite end point – suspension expected to last until at least mid-April

South DakotaAdjourned 30th March after winding up by remote access

Suspended until 1st June


Biannual legislative sessions so none scheduled in 2020


Adjourned sine die


Back in session after suspension – voting spread out through all available space to adhere to social distancing before moving to a remote voting system


Adjourned sine die


Adjourned sine die

West Virginia

Adjourned sine die


Cancelled final Senate session of the legislative period which ended 27th March, leaving a number of bills to die. Will hold a special session 20th-21th April limited to specific correction/revision bills, reconciliation bills between the houses, ratification of employee bargaining contracts or ceremonial citations under joint rules. A separate special session or extraordinary session could be called to act on other bills such as those in response to the coronavirus pandemic


Adjourned sine die

– Freddie Dawson TobaccoIntelligence staff

Photo: Piqsels

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