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How governments around the world are passing laws amid the coronavirus crisis

How governments around the world are passing laws amid the coronavirus crisis
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Congressional leaders in both parties have dismissed the idea of virtual voting during the coronavirus pandemic, but a number of U.S. states and countries around the world have found ways to adapt to vote on bills and participate in debates while maintaining social distancing. 

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE (R-Ky.) have pushed back on rank-and-file members' calls for Congress to figure out a way still conduct business while adhering to health guidelines, arguing that establishing an unprecedented system in the middle of a pandemic holds legal and logistical risks. 

Yet the alternatives would involve not being in session, passing bills by unanimous consent or making hundreds of lawmakers travel and congregate in Congress, thus risking exposing themselves and others to the coronavirus at a time when some members are already sick or in quarantine.

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Here’s how other legislative bodies are finding ways to debate and pass laws remotely during the crisis. 

Pennsylvania

Both chambers of Pennsylvania’s state legislature recently adopted new rules that allow lawmakers to vote remotely during the pandemic. Members of the state House can text or email their votes to party leaders, although those party leaders must still be physically present in the chamber. And in the state Senate, members can vote via video conference.

Both the state House and Senate are live-streaming proceedings for public viewing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both chambers have already started using this method of voting, with more than 100 lawmakers participating remotely during votes on coronavirus-related legislation last week.

Utah

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The Utah House and Senate swiftly adopted a resolution in mid-March that allows the legislature to conduct sessions electronically if the governor has declared a state of emergency; if each chamber’s leaders has determined it is “dangerous, unwise or impractical” to convene in person; and if at least 25 percent of lawmakers cannot travel. The resolution also allows for counting members participating in sessions electronically as part of a quorum.

New Jersey

The New Jersey state assembly last week passed coronavirus relief-related legislation by phone for the first time. Lawmakers posted photos of themselves on social media dialing into the conference call to vote from their home offices, living rooms and couches. The assembly clerk conducted a verbal roll call to gather lawmakers' votes in alphabetical order over the phone. Both the state assembly and Senate had passed a measure the week before allowing them to conduct business remotely. 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin already had a measure in place establishing rules for lawmakers to meet virtually in an emergency. In recent days, the Wisconsin state Senate has been conducting test runs for what would be its first virtual legislative session.

A dress rehearsal last week included proposing amendments, passing bills and adjourning in honor of National Waffle Day, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. While a handful of senators, the Senate clerk and staff would meet in the state Capitol, other senators would log in via Skype for Business and authenticate their identities. The proceedings would also be accessible for public viewing, as required by the law establishing how virtual meetings can be conducted.

Spain

Spain, one of the nations hardest hit by the coronavirus, already had a system in place for years to allow lawmakers to vote remotely in special circumstances, such as while they were on parental leave or dealing with a serious illness. Most of the 350 members of the Congress of Deputies, its lower house, voted remotely last week to extend the country’s "state of alarm" granting the government emergency powers. The vote took place in a nearly empty chamber with only 43 members in attendance, according to El País.

EU Parliament

The European Union’s legislative branch used a system last month allowing its 705 members to vote over email on coronavirus emergency measures instead of requiring them to travel to Brussels from all over the continent. Parliament members each received a ballot form that they filled out, signed and returned over email. The financial aid measures for member states passed on near-unanimous votes.

Wales and Isle of Man

The United Kingdom’s (UK) parliament is still figuring out how to conduct its business without forcing all of its members to physically congregate and, like Congress, is shut down until at least mid-April. House of Commons leaders said this week that they are reviewing their options, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, members of the Welsh assembly on Wednesday used Zoom video conferencing to its weekly plenary session, the first for any parliament in the UK. And in the Isle of Man, a self-governing crown dependency, members of its parliament will debate and vote on legislation over audio link.