There have been several COVID-positive members of the California Legislature. Leading up to Thursday, COVID-positive members and those they were in contact with in the Capitol were asked to quarantine for 14 days. But legislative business went on with some members participating remotely.
Wednesday Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) announced he had tested positive for COVID, and was self-quarantining. But by Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins refused to let Senate Republicans into the Capitol building, locking them out.
The ten Senators will now remain under quarantine for the rest of the session, voting remotely from home. Many members say voting remotely is illegal.
The Globe has confirmed that Government Code Section 9050 “provides that every person who willfully, and by force or fraud, prevents the Legislature, either of the houses composing the Legislature, or any of its members from meeting or organizing is guilty of a felony.”
The Globe sent several questions to Pro Tem Atkins’ office following a Zoom video conference with media which provided more questions than answers.
- Republicans offered to meet at another location in the Capitol building during session but were not allowed. Why?
- There was an Appropriations committee last Thursday, floor session Thursday and Monday. What about contacts then?
- What public health officials were consulted? Epidemiologists? Virologists?
- Who conducted the contact tracing investigation?
- In July 2 members tested positive and the protocol was a 14-day shutdown to keep people safe. Why not now? Why change the procedure?
During the Zoom conference, Secretary of the Senate Erika Contreras added to the confusion: “As we were heading into the long days, back to back days, floor session only, the contact with members required us to do an assessment of whether it made sense to try and identify people who might be asymptomatic carriers,” Contreras said.
Whenever a reporter asked why just the Republican Caucus is being locked out of the Capitol, Contreras and Atkins spoke in circles, punting to each other back and forth, claiming these were decisions by the Capitol public health officials. When asked about the health protocols with the other members and staff who had obviously been in contact with Sen. Jones, Contreras claimed any answer would violate Senate employees’ privacy.
For three weeks the Senate has largely done nothing. There has been plenty of time to do the end-of-session legislative business – like meeting, debating and voting on the 500+ remaining bills.
The Assembly and Senate have been dealing with the COVID-19 virus very differently, with the Senate now quarantining the entire Republican Caucus.
The Assembly didn’t do anything much at all with COVID-positive members – they self-quarantined. They didn’t shut down session or committee hearings.
Yet members and staffers all share the building, meet together in the same committee rooms, lunch in the cafeterias, and get coffee together.
“I am disappointed Senate Leadership has not followed the precedence that we have seen earlier this year when the Capitol was shut down after two Assembly Members contracted COVID-19. Californians deserve representation in the Senate regardless of party affiliation,” Sen. Ling-Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) said in a statement Thursday. “To forbid an entire caucus from voting when all members were exposed defies logic and robs my constituents of their voice. This should be about public health not politics.”
The Globe has also heard there is serious conflict between Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate Pro Tem Atkins. Rendon announced the Assembly will not meet again until Sunday August 30th, until all of the bills are released by the Senate. That is 500+ bills the Senate needs to debate and vote on between Friday and Sunday.
We’ve also heard that 6 Democrats went to get COVID tested. The Globe has not received confirmation, other than to report we heard this from three different sources.
We will update this rapidly moving story.
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