On Thursday 10 of the 11 Republican Senators were denied entry to the Capitol Building amid concerns of spreading COVID-19 to others in the building.
10 Republican Senators barred from the Capitol Building
The extreme measure came a day after it was announced that Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) had tested positive for COVID-19, and that contract tracing had found that he spread it to other GOP Senators on Tuesday during a caucus lunch.
The ten Senators will now remain under quarantine for the rest of the session. Remote voting on Senate floor votes, which had been ruled out twice before earlier this year by the Senate as it would go against the California Constitution, will now be allowed for those Republicans under quarantine.
While Senate leaders had discussed a hybrid vote at home/vote at the Capitol system, the urgency of hundreds of bills needing to be voted on by Monday forced them to vote completely remotely. As the Senate already had to miss Wednesday because of the situation, lawmakers in Sacramento didn’t want to risk losing any more days of voting with only a handful of days left until the end of the session.
“Unfortunately, the nature of the gathering that resulted in the exposures was such that virtually every member of the Republican Caucus is now unable to enter the Capitol without violating public health orders,” said Senate President Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) in a statement. “I know our Republican colleagues are disappointed not to be on the floor or in their offices today, but I also know they would never knowingly put the health and safety of others at risk.
“Our clock is running out. We have work to do.”
GOP outraged over being blocked, forced to vote remotely
Senate Republicans, who demanded that the Senate stop until testing could resume to readmit the GOP Senators, was put down by Senate Democrats, citing that it would expose everyone to COVID-19.
Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff), the lone Republican to be admitted to the Senate on Thursday, angrily disapproved of the Democrats going against procedure and not meeting with top Senate Republicans over the outstanding bills before the Senate.
“What’s more important? The health or a handful of bills at the end of session,” exclaimed Senator Nielsen on Thursday after attempting to let the Senate readmit the Republicans after further testing. “I don’t care what bills we’ve got before us – none could possibly be that important. Here we’re talking about bills dying. But through exposure, we’re talking about humans dying.”
Republicans, who are now being forced to vote remotely for the rest of the session, also expressed frustration over the situation.
“I feel frustrated obviously that I’m prepared and ready to go but I’m being asked not to, so what else can I say,” said Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) in a statement late Thursday.
Others in the Capitol also noticed the changes immediately.
“I got into the office this morning to a pile of sticky notes and notices informing us of the Senators being quarantined,” explained “Dana,” a Capitol staffer, to the Globe. “This has not happened. Voting remotely to this extent, this has not happened. We’ve been in uncharted waters all day.”
“And when they were voting today, there was confusion over what the ten Republicans could do, as they aren’t set up to vote yet, so they quickly said that they would keep it open so that they could add in their votes later on.”
“It’s true that there are a lot of bills and that that these are strange times. But I have never seen any legislator this zealous on getting things passed with a chunk of their colleagues missing. This isn’t right, but it’s been happening all day.”
While the Senate will keep the rolls open to allow the 10 GOP Senators to vote on Thursday’s bills later, the quarantined Senators are expected to begin distance voting on Friday.
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