Democratic legislators from around the country weigh in on COVID-19 responses

Photo Courtesy of New York Senate Media Services
New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins holds a Zoom conference in her office in the state Capitol with members of her Conference in the week leading up to the budget passage.

Democratic legislators from around the country joined the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a Democratic Party organization that works to elect Democrats to U.S. state legislatures, on a press call Wednesday, April 8 to discuss the work they have been doing at the state level to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19.

Senator Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, commended not only the New York state Legislature for the initiatives it has passed to help its residents, but also thanked Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for giving New York 40,000 ventilators.

“It is so important that Democrats are in leadership in the state houses, because the lack of leadership in the nation has made it clear that what happens in state legislatures matters,” Stewart-Cousins said.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $40 million appropriation for the New York State Department of Health to hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the potential novel coronavirus pandemic, the legislature was also able to provide paid sick leave for people under quarantine and unemployment insurance to the thousands of residents now out of work.

“For everyone we continue to be leaders in this fight,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We made sure to lower the number of signatures needed for collecting petitions before the primaries, so we could continue to be on the forefront of making sure we’re protecting our health care workers, our New Yorkers economically, as well as making sure we preserve their rights.”

On the other hand, California is taking measures like focusing on providing the homeless with somewhere to take shelter from the pandemic; preventing foreclosures; making sure utilities aren’t shut off; ensuring small businesses have access to capital in the form of zero interest loans; and ensuring that public schools continue to receive funding.

“We have a democratic governor and two thirds democratic majorities in each house and we’ve been hard at work, trying to make decisions that are based on public health and evidence and science and that are in the best interest of our people,” California Assembly Assistant Majority Leader Rob Bonta said. “We know what’s best for public health right now is not necessarily what’s best for the economy.”

Michigan Senate Minority Leader, James Ananich, discussed the divisiveness of the Michigan state government and the fight to expand access to healthcare and extend unemployment benefits.
Senator Ananich, who is a resident of Flint, Michigan, also discussed the city’s six-year long public health crisis resulting from the contaminated water supply and the recent executive order made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowing reconnections of Flint’s water supply.

“It seems like something that is intuitive, that every Michigan resident or every American should have access to clean safe water. That’s not the case in Michigan, but the governor, through executive order, is making sure that we have access to clean water so that people can wash their hands and clean themselves and their family members,” Senator Ananich said.

Recovering from the virus herself, Georgia State Senator, Nikema Williams, criticized Georgia’s limited access to testing and Gov. Brian Kemp’s slow response to the pandemic. The senator also pointed out the lack of healthcare and the ongoing health disparities in the region’s black community.

More black people have been diagnosed and tested positive for COVID-19 than any other race in Georgia.

“This could all be solved by expanding Medicaid so that people can get the care that they need. This could’ve been done early on, but our governor still refuses to do it,” Senator Williams said. “We need to be focused on getting testing available in communities of color and making sure that communities of color are not continuing to be disproportionately represented.”

Gov. Kemp called for an extended state of emergency in Georgia, leaving legislators unsure if there will be additional delays to the state’s presidential primary election on May 19.

Senator Williams and fellow democrats are working to expand access to the ballot by offering the option to vote by mail in order to protect public health and democracy.

Yet, the state of Oregon finds itself better equipped for dealing with the pandemic than most other states. The legislature has been implementing progressive policies for several years; having a Democratic Majority in the Senate since 2004 and a Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives for the past eight years.

Some of these policies include the expansion of Medicaid access, low uninsured rates, universal security benefits for all workers, paid sick leave, raises in minimum wage, rent stabilization and the prohibition of unjust no-cause eviction.

“Once we have the public health crisis under control, we know that we need to continue to support Oregon families and businesses to limit the economic damage … My goal is to make sure the economic recovery from this recession lifts up everyone at the end of the day,” Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek said.

The state has also formed a special Joint Committee for coronavirus response which has recommended rent and foreclosure moratorium for both residential and commercial tenants, flexible grants for small business stabilization, rent and food assistance, support for domestic violence shelters and health insurance protections against out of network costs and surprise billing from COVID-19 treatment.

“I wish I could say better things about how we responded to the challenges of an election, it is so unfortunate that we had to choose between taking care of ourselves and exercising our right to vote. We did everything that we could to work with the Republicans, and they chose not to come into a special session and make the necessary changes to our elections schedule,” Wisconsin State Senator Janet Bewley said of the state’s highly controversial election that occurred April 7.

Wisconsin has not yet accepted the money from the federal government to expand Medicaid, which is disproportionately affecting rural residents. One of the state’s biggest problems is the divide between urban, suburban and rural Wisconsiners.

A majority of the residents living in rural Wisconsin do not have access to the internet, leaving them disengaged, isolated and uninformed. Senator Bewley claimed that people living in rural areas are also being ignored by the state legislature in regards to awareness and treatment.

“We are going to continue to do all we can to bring a just and fair society to all parts of Wisconsin,” Senator Bewley concluded.