On Monday, the Assembly started a new session from their temporary home at the Golden 1 Arena, with many new bills being introduced attempting to reopen California by the spring.
Among the newly introduced bills was Assembly Bill 61, authored by Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), aims to reopen restaurants quicker to help them avoid further financial distress. Specifically, AB 61 would have local jurisdictions be able to change dining regulations to allow more outdoor dining as long as public health guidelines are met.
“We have extraordinary challenges ahead of us as we confront the devastating impacts of COVID-19,” said Assemblyman Gabriel in a statement. “Meeting these challenges will require unity, focus, and innovative public policies. I look forward to working with my colleagues to craft solutions that can help people in my community and across the State of California.”
Another bill, Assembly Bill 10, was also introduced, focusing on in-person learning at schools returning by March.
AB 10, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require all public schools in the state to resume in-person learning if they have been in the red, orange, or yellow COVID-19 tiers for at least 2 weeks. The bill would allow a hybrid half-in school, half-remote system, but would require at least some in class time.
AB 10, which would not apply to public schools, would trump local school board and county decisions on re-openings and would essentially force those schools unwilling to reopen to at least partially reopen. If passed, the bill would come into effect March 1st.
“As a father, I worry about all the learning loss occurring and the millions of kids who are falling behind, as a result of our sole reliance on remote teaching – not to mention the impacts of social isolation,” said Assemblyman Ting on introducing his bill on Monday. “Schools in other states and countries have prioritized in-person learning during COVID-19 and have done so without major outbreaks. California ought to follow that path.”
Ting’s co-author, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) also agreed.
“Schools should be ready to open as soon as public health authorities allow it,” explained Assemblyman O’Donnell. “Distance learning is ineffective for many students. We must bring students back into the classroom with safety measures in place as soon as possible to prevent further learning loss.”
A major focus on COVID-19, economic impacts
Other bills focused on other economic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recession, including a bill by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) that would extend eviction protection rules through the end of 2021 and possibly help struggling renters and homeowners with rents and mortgages.
“We have got to move a housing package that seeks to address the difficulties that Californians are having, whether they rent or they’re trying to hold onto their mortgage,” said Senate President Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) from the floor of the Senate on Monday. “We’ve got work to do, and we need to do it soon.”
Those close to the legislature have said that, while many bills do focus on other issues, most notably homelessness and minority protections, the real focus on the December 2020 session has been COVID-19.
“It’s hard to find a bill that isn’t either directly or tangentially related to COVID this session,” “Dana,” a Capitol staffer told the Globe. “Republican and Democrats alike have seen businesses failing and people suffering more and more. You wouldn’t believe the number of calls and emails we get from people on the verge of losing their house or apartment or business. It’s really why you’re seeing all of these bills come up, especially from Democrats who have been all for COVID protections seemingly all year. Even they are starting to push for more openness now and aren’t exactly siding with Newsom or other officials. It’s starting to hit home for many now.”
Many experts also have said that this session may help bring an economic resurgence.
“That’s the hope,” said small business advisor Daran Kelly to the California Globe. “The shutdowns have been devastating on small businesses. The high taxes have been driving out some of the tax base. Many are questioning whether or not to open up office space in buildings in California next year.
“These bills won’t solve everything. But if they’re passed, specifically the ones centered around businesses like more advanced re-openings, then it’s at the very least a step in the right direction. And that’s what California needs right now.”
More COVID-19-centric bills are expected to be introduced in the coming weeks as the next session continues on in Sacramento.