As California prepares to fully reopen Tuesday June 15th, legislative leaders appear to be reluctant to allow the State Capitol to fully reopen and return to normal. Yet government should be the first to fully reopen, not the last.
Both houses of the Legislature issued memos (below) to elected lawmakers and staff outlining the rules for “reopening.” But these rules are largely the same as the rules during the lockdown: mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, and now staff must show proof of receiving the vaccine. In the Senate, staff is ordered to wear masks in their offices all day. Why?
Most states in the U.S. are opened and back to normal, and most states are doing this without mandatory masking or social distancing. Why not California?
Both memos say, “Similar to protocols surrounding the Assembly Chamber, current health and safety protocols will remain in place in all committee hearings, including social distancing and mask wearing.”
Many in and around the Capitol believe too many lawmakers have used the COVID lockdown as an excuse to conduct the people’s business away from the people.
Lobbyists used to be able to have meetings with legislators face to face in Capitol offices; it’s difficult to do business effectively over a Zoom video call.
Unvaccinated staff will be treated like social outcasts. What about their privacy? Some staffers can’t get vaccinated due to health conditions or religious objections. Will they be segregated? Will they be allowed back into the building? Since when does an employee have to share such personal medical information with an employer?
Some of these guidelines are silly, and some are legally questionable. Staff who are fully vaccinated are already at an extremely low risk of infection, according to the CDC, and most physicians. Blending them with unvaccinated staffers would not increase infections risks since vaccines only protect the recipient, and not the general public.
Staff who had Coronavirus are also at an extremely low risk of infection, and doctors recommend they NOT get the vaccine since their antibodies are almost always higher than those vaccinated.
And given that most everyone has been shopping at Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, grocery stores and going to restaurants and bars, making a Senate staff member show proof of a vaccine and wear a mask all day while sitting alone behind closed doors in the office is preposterous.
These are some highlights from the Assembly letter to lawmakers and staff:
- Vaccinated staffers must provide proof of the vaccine to the Rules Committee. Unvaccinated staff will be required to be COVID tested weekly, and those staffers who have a medical exemption must be prepared to prove it to the Rules committee and HR with a note from a doctor.
- When in the Capitol, LOB, or district offices, all Members and staff should continue to wear a face covering in all shared spaces, e.g., hallways, elevators, and restrooms, regardless of vaccination status. In addition to proper and consistent mask wearing, social distancing of at least six feet will continue to be required.
- if you are fully vaccinated, please provide the CHSC nurses with confirmation of your vaccination by sending a copy of your COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to email@example.com or drop off a hard copy with the CHSC nurses on the 5th Floor of the State Capitol, Room 5034.
- The Assembly will require all unvaccinated staff working in-person in the Capitol and LOB to test once per week.
- Members and employees who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons must contact Assembly Rules Committee, Human Resources, to begin the interactive process and determine an appropriate accommodation, if applicable. (If an appropriate accommodation not, is termination “applicable?”)
The Senate reopening letter:
- Masks will continue to be required in the Capitol, LOB, and district offices, including hallways, elevators, hearing rooms, restrooms and in all shared spaces. Cal/OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards, require masks for all workers regardless of vaccination status. Masks must contain at least two (2) layers of fabric.
- Employees and Senators will no longer be screened for temperatures as all employees are either fully vaccinated or will be screened for Covid-19 once per week under our new testing program.
- Once vaccinated, it is a requirement that Senators and staff submit proof of vaccination.
- Employees who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons must contact Human Resources to begin an assessment for a reasonable accommodation.
- Senators may continue to meet with advocates, lobbyists and the public via remote platforms and telephonic means.
- District offices will remain closed to the public, except when the Senator is present and taking meetings. Staff will continue to provide constituent services by phone and remote platforms.
- After June 16, 2021, the Senate will stop testing vaccinated Senators and essential employees who support Senate proceedings. Only unvaccinated individuals must continue to test.
The public and lobbyists have had little to no access to lawmakers and Capitol staff for more than 15 months. Speaking with staffers and advocates, not only do lobbyists need to have access to lawmakers and state agencies to do their jobs, the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is a Constitutional guarantee. In one case earlier this year before the United States Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch addressed this saying, “even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical.”
Constitutional rights persist, even during a pandemic.
The California Capitol has been unavailable to most members of the public for more than 15 months. In that time, governance has suffered.
For example, the Senate says, “As has been the case since last year, Senate committees are limited to members of the committee, essential staff supporting the policy and logistical operations, and members of the public, advocates and press to the extent social distancing permits. Committee members may not have staff in hearings, except to briefly deliver or retrieve materials from their members. Authors will be allowed one (1) staff in committee while they are presenting measures. Social distancing must be observed and the staff must leave once the member concludes their presentation.”
And the Senate is dispensing medical advice: “The most important measure anyone can take to protect from injury or illness from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. As a reminder, all Senators and staff are highly encouraged to get vaccinated.”
“They are planning to go to fully mandated vaccines, so as a staffer you need to talk to the Rules committee about how to keep (or lose) your job… never once in my years of Capitol employment did I ever have to show medical records or vaccine records as a condition of my employment,” one Capitol staffer told the Globe about a medical exemption. “Why this virus? Why not HIV, or the common cold and seasonal flu? Why just this virus?”
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” comes to mind.Post June 15 Memo 6.11.21 FINAL
Increased Public Access to the State Capitol