Even after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Feb. 29, 2022 he was dropping the mask mandate on school kids March 12, the California State Senate leaders quickly sent a memo out to Senators and staff announcing mask mandates would remain in place while they “consult with local public health officials.”
Sacramento County had already lifted the county-wide mask mandate two weeks earlier.
The Assembly had relaxed the mask rules slightly, only requiring masks worn in communal areas, like hallways and committees.
Capitol staffers say the Senate finally lifted its mask mandate. Senators are all back in person, sitting shoulder to shoulder in chambers on the Senate floor and the dais.
However, even with most masks gone now, 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. 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.
In fact, here is a list of Assembly and Senate committee hearing rooms in the Capitol, total seats and seats currently available with ongoing social distancing:
Rm 126 – 10 open seats out of 73 total seats
Rm 127 – 5 open seats out of 39 total seats
Rm 437 – 9 open out of 86 seats
Rm 444 – 9 open out of 48 seats
Rm 447 – 15 open out of 87 seats
Rm 1100 – 37 open out of 199 seats
Gallery – 27 open out of 138 seats
Rm 112 – 12 open out of 77 total seats
Rm 1200 – 31 open out of 169 seats
Rm 2100 – 11 open out of 66 seats
Rm 2200 – 17 open out of 67 seats
Gallery – 15 open out of 112 seats
The Institute of Government Advocates sent a letter to Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon asking them to relax the social distancing in committee hearing rooms, saying they have experienced a number of instances where the number of available seats was met, effectively preventing lobbyists from performing their jobs. They asked for a doubling of the current allotment of open seats in each hearing room.
The IGA also asked for lobbyists carrying his or her ID badge to be allowed entrance to the Capitol through the N Street Pavilion.
“There was no call in comment allowed today [Monday] in the Assembly Health Committee. My friends were there to oppose AB1797 and dozens of us were trying to call in,” one member of the public told the Globe. “Then Chairman Jim Wood threw my friend out of the hearing when he questioned the censorship taking place.”
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 have not heard back, but will update when we do.