Additional COVID-19 legislation expected in late May

May 7, 2020

The next COVID-19 supplemental is expected to be released by the House as early as this week. Speaker Pelosi indicated that she would like the House to vote on the bill by May 15, but the Senate is not likely to move swiftly and final passage isn't anticipated until late May or early June.  While it doesn't appear the Senate is working on a proposal, Republicans may release a draft after seeing what House Democrats propose.

The focus has been on funding for state, local, and tribal governments, including the overall funding level and how it will be distributed. Senate leaders McConnell and McCarthy have indicated that the bill must include liability protections for employers. While it’s unclear precisely what Republicans are considering in terms of liability protection, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a liability plan that may offer some insights. Highlights include:

  • Safe harbor from certain health privacy requirements to allow reopening/contact tracing;
  • Protection from anti-discrimination rules, as employers may use age or underlying health conditions to make reopening decisions;
  • Clarify scope of OSHA requirements on providing PPE to all employees;
  • Safe harbor for temporary workplace policy changes, limit application of the WARN Act;
  • Protection against exposure claims (i.e. if a customer/employee is exposed to COVID-19 at business facility and as a result of the business’s action (or lack of), the individual becomes sick);
  • Expansion of products covered under the PREP Act for product liability purposes;
  • Expand CARES Act medical liability to all healthcare providers/facilities;
  • Automatic stay of securities litigation related to COVID-19 pandemic until President’s public emergency declaration is rescinded.

Democrats have pushed back on the inclusion of a liability shield, pointing out that lawsuits serve as a deterrent to companies from taking actions that risk harm. There is also the concern that a blanket liability shield could incentivize risky behavior and force employees to return to work in unsafe environments.

Other Democratic priorities include rural broadband (reflecting bipartisan acknowledgment and support for investing in broadband, as schools try to figure out distance learning), housing relief, small business funding, hospital support, healthcare and frontline worker support (Heroes Fund), another round of individual payments, SNAP and student debt relief. A standalone infrastructure bill will likely come later this year. However, broadband infrastructure may be the exception. It may be included in Phase 4, as distance learning and telemedicine become more important, and have bipartisan appeal.

Find more details in the Cornerstone legislative update posted in UEP’s COVID-19 Library.