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Legislatures Meet Remotely, Limit Public as Virus Spreads

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Legislatures Meet Remotely, Limit Public as Virus Spreads

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Members of the Arkansas House met in a college basketball arena, spaced out among 5,600 seats, as they voted on ways to cover a budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus punch to the economy.

When South Dakota lawmakers convene Monday to consider 10 emergency bills, it won’t be inside their familiar chambers. Instead, they will be speaking and voting via a video call system.

This is not government as usual.

In state capitols across the U.S., lawmakers have ditched decorum and sidestepped traditional public meeting requirements in a rush to pass legislation funding the fight against the coronavirus and aiding residents affected by the widespread shutdown of commerce.

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“Social distancing” mandates intended to slow the spread of the virus have upended life for millions of Americans and also have led lawmakers to scrap centuries-old rules about the way they conduct work.

“It is an enormous shift, probably the biggest change to Vermont’s democracy since we were founded as a state,” Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told reporters as the chamber adopted new rules for remote voting.

Vermont lawmakers have voted with a verbal yes or no from assigned seats in a closely packed chamber. That changed this past week, when they adopted an emergency rule allowing members to spread out through the visitors’ galleries to keep a germ-safe distance from each other.The next time they are in full session, Vermont lawmakers will be spread out through the entire state, testing a still-to-be-designed remote voting system.The state experiments are meant to slow the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease so hospitals won’t become overwhelmed with a sudden surge of […]

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