Last Thursday the Globe reported that State Capitol leadership is still requiring social distancing in committee hearing rooms, greatly diminishing available seating for lobbyists and members of the public, and denying many access to their elected representatives.
“And adding insult to injury, the Assembly Health Committee did not allow public/lobbyist phone-in testimony Monday,” the Globe reported. “Phone-in testimony, instituted during COVID has been the only way members of the public and many lobbyists have been able to testify at legislative committee hearings.”
The Globe contacted the offices of Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and asked if there is a written policy about social distancing requirements in committee hearings, or if there are ongoing concerns. We did not heard back by publication time, but said we’d update when we do.
The Globe heard from the Senate Pro Tem’s office one week later (today):
“We are continuing to keep some social distancing in place because of the need to ensure that rooms continue to be an environment in which its safe for members of the public and press to watch and participate in hearing. Social distancing remains a tool to manage risk, especially considering that masks are now optional, and vaccines and/or a negative test are not required to attend hearings.”
“The Social distancing has never limited the ability for a lobbyist, member of the public, or member of the press to participate or advocate – we’ve never turned people away. We also continue to utilize phone testimony in the Senate, so members of the public and others can participate in the hearing process, and we livestream hearings so anyone can watch the hearing. Note: We have lifted mask requirements, but continue to strongly encourage people to wear masks while indoors in alignment with health guidelines.”
One lobbyist in Sacramento who asked to remain unnamed disagrees with the Pro Tem’s explanation, pointing out the obvious flaws in the argument for ongoing social distancing in committee hearing rooms:
“It’s completely unreasonable for the Senate to continue to maintain social distancing in committee rooms as a matter of public health or safety. There is no social distancing in the security line. There is no social distancing in the hallways outside of committee rooms. There is no social distancing in member offices or other public spaces of the Capitol building.”
“Members of the Senate are free to sit unmasked side-by-side with each other as if they are somehow more immune to COVID than the members of the public who wish to petition them. At best this is sloppy decision making; at worst it is intentionally designed to limit the number of active participants in the legislative process.”
In many of the committee hearing rooms, less than 15% of the seating is available because of the ongoing social distancing requirements. And as the lobbyist points out, there is no social distancing in the security line, in the Capitol hallways outside of committee rooms, in member offices or other public spaces of the capital building.
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