Jim Hartman: Nevada reels from COVID shutdown

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Nevadans are reeling from an unprecedented unemployment rate of 28.2 percent in April, resulting from COVID-19 business closures ordered by Gov. Sisolak. That’s the highest rate ever recorded by any state in the United States.

Workers lost 244,800 jobs in April in the first full month of business shutdowns. Nevada’s jobless rate was double that experienced in the Great Recession when unemployment reached 14.5 percent in December 2010, the nation’s highest at that time. Nevada’s unemployment numbers also exceed the Great Depression, when unemployment peaked at close to 25 percent in 1933.

The April rate also exceeds new unemployment record highs in other states. Bureau of Labor Statistics show only two other states reached April unemployment rates over 20 percent. Michigan had an unemployment rate of 22.7 percent and Hawaii, 22.3 percent.

States like Nevada that have ordered all businesses in their states to shutdown except those they deem “essential” have experienced especially severe job losses.

Sisolak announced May 26 the second phase of the state’s “tiered” reopening , including “broader opening of commerce/retail, services and public life under extremely strict social distancing measures.” Face masks are “strongly encouraged.”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board met May 26 to review safety and sanitation protocols for Nevada’s gaming industry with a plan to reopen June 4 after more than two months of closures from the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevada’s record 28.2 percent jobless rate is a stark reminder of the Silver State’s continuing economic dependence on gaming and tourism. Nevada employment officials report the number of jobs in the food and hospitality industry plummeted by 41 percent compared to April 2019.

The strides made under former Gov. Brian Sandoval at greater economic diversification in Nevada still need enlarging.

In Washington, Senate Democrats are pushing for an additional $1 trillion in funding for state and local governments battered by tax shortfalls, on top of $150 billion already disbursed to them for coronavirus-related expenses. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump have rejected any use of aid to fill pension holes but indicated openness to an additional “next stage” coronavirus bill.

McConnell has called legal liability protections a must have “red line” for Republicans before they would consider further state and local aid. McConnell argues the next round of coronavirus relief legislation should include limits on a plaintiff’s ability to sue health care workers, employers and other businesses for coronavirus-related claims.

A coalition of 36 physician and hospital associations has appealed to congressional leaders for federal protection legislation as well.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens of state and local business groups are asking Congress to pass temporary legislation that would provide reopening businesses a “safe harbor” from litigation filed in connection with employee and customer coronavirus infections — hoping to accelerate economic recovery from state lockdowns.

The chamber seeks to protect employers from lawsuits where businesses follow public health guidelines. “Bad actors” i.e. those grossly negligent or reckless in their behavior would still be liable.

Trial lawyers have already sued cruise ship operators, soap manufacturers and insurance companies, but the coronavirus will give the plaintiff’s bar many additional tempting targets — nursing homes, hospitals, pharmaceutical and safety equipment manufacturers, retailers and more.

Senate Democrats argue that OSHA be required to force companies to develop worksite-specific coronavirus-protection plans rather than have Congress enact any legal liability protections.

A Senate Republican fact sheet points out a long, close financial relationship between Democratic leaders and the nation’s trial lawyers. Lawyers and law firms have contributed $8.2 million to Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer’s political campaigns and $1.6 million to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, lawyers and law firm employees made 95 percent of their political contributions to Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2020, with President Trump drawing only 5 percent.

Jim Hartman is an attorney living in Genoa.


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