Republicans in the middle of the country have begun to sketch out plans for re-opening their states, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to push deeper into the heartland – and as the hardest-hit states on both the East and West coasts band together to keep closures going as long as they’re needed.
These lawmakers in the central part of the country contend that they are being adversely impacted by closures despite their lower infection rates compared to the hotspots on the coasts.
In Utah, state lawmakers will head into a special session on Thursday to consider legislation that would begin to open certain businesses by the end of April, even though the state’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday he would keep schools closed for the rest of the academic year.
Senate president Stuart Adams told CNN that the legislature, which is controlled by Republicans in both chambers, is looking to allow the state to enter a “stabilization phase” that would keep social distancing guidelines in place while businesses are gradually reopened beginning April 30.
“We are trying to do it in a thoughtful way but we also know that we are trying to get our economy back at some point in time,” Adams told CNN. “Some people may argue about the time that it should happen but I think everyone knows that it has to happen that we can’t continue this on forever and ever.”
Adams added that no matter which state re-opens first it’s going to be a learning curve, “I’ll guarantee you, if we do it, they will be looking at us. If they do it, we’ll be looking at them. And we will be talking about what works and what doesn’t.”
President Donald Trump, who on Monday asserted that he had the authority to order businesses to reopen, abruptly reversed course on Tuesday and said he would back state plans for reopening the economy, with millions of Americans already out of work. Public health experts have warned that lifting stay-at-home orders too soon and without adequate testing capacity, treatments or vaccines would risk extending the crisis.
‘We have to start the discussion now’
That hasn’t stopped some from moving ahead. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a press conference on Monday announced plans to issue an executive order outlining a recovery plan for the state later this week. Abbott said the plan is being done in collaboration with the White House, noting that he spoke to Trump and to Vice President Mike Pence about his plans.
“Only the businesses that will have minimal or zero impact on the spread of Covid-19 will be the first ones to open up, and then secondarily others will be able to open up based upon certain strategies that will be in my executive order,” Abbott said.
Texas is still two weeks out from its peak resource use, according to the widely-used model produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
In Ohio, at least three Republican lawmakers have called on Gov. Mike DeWine – one of the first Republican governors to take aggressive action to counter the spread of coronavirus in March – to start making plans to reopen up the state, which is under a stay-at-home order until May 1. Both the state Senate and House have Republican majorities.
State Sen. Todd Smith, who represents Preble County and a portion of Dayton, in a letter to DeWine said the state had overreached based on “flawed data models,” “speculation” and “media overreaction.”
“We have to start the discussion now to say, ‘We need to start seriously considering what businesses can come back right on May 1,’” Smith told CNN. “I think the quarantine needs to end. I think there are things that can be phased in over time. Hairstylists, lawn care or one-on-one work should be started right back.”
Smith told CNN that he thinks restaurants and bars should be the last ones to phase in completely over time due to their limited space.
In a separate letter, Ohio’s Senate Majority Leader Matt Huffman, who represents rural areas of Ohio, has proposed that businesses be allowed to open in “less densely populated areas,” according to Cleveland.com. A third lawmaker, Andrew Brenner, in a Facebook post post titled “We Must Reopen Ohio” reiterated the call to open up the state’s economy.
“We can’t stay like this much longer, and the hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who’ve lost their jobs or the thousands of small business owners can’t keep doing this either, or their lives will be irreparably destroyed,” said Brenner in the post.
State Republicans pushing Democratic governors
In Kansas and Pennsylvania, some Republican lawmakers have begun pushing their Democratic governors toward issuing economic plans in the coming weeks.
Republicans in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives this week passed a bill aimed at easing the restrictions on essential businesses, bringing the state’s closures more in line with federal guidelines. Under the bill, businesses like auto dealerships and residential construction would be considered essential. The measure now heads to the state senate for approval and will eventually need to be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf to be effective, according to The Morning Call.
On Tuesday, a group of 43 Republicans in Kansas’ House of Representatives sent a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly, asking for a plan to get “the economy going.”
“What objective, scientific metrics have you determined must be met in order for us to begin the process to re-open?” read Kansas lawmakers’ letter.
The push by Republicans to unfreeze the economy comes in stark contrast to moves by California, New York and surrounding states to band together to draft regional plans on stay-at-home orders. The regional pacts challenge Trump’s assertions and recent threat that he has the “total authority” to decide when the nation’s economy can reopen.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he would legally challenge any directive from Trump to open up the state’s economy that New York officials determined was unsafe.
“If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government and that would go into the courts,” Cuomo told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Tuesday.
CNN’s Stephen Collinson, Maeve Reston and Devan Cole contributed to this report.