On Monday, California lawmakers announced that Assembly members may have to take COVID-19 coronavirus tests before reporting back to the Assembly on May 4th.
A question of testing
Members of the Assembly are currently being recommended, not ordered, to take tests before coming in. Assembly leaders are also now looking toward testing those who didn’t take tests before coming to Sacramento.
Concerns over lawmaker health, public health, and the low amounts of daily testing spurred many in the Assembly to consider a more mandatory solution for lawmakers and their staffs at the state capitol.
“The members of the Democratic caucus have had several discussions about potentially getting tested,” noted Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles) in a statement. “Due to the public nature of our work, the Sacramento County Public Health Officer is recommending Members get tested for COVID-19, and we are taking that guidance seriously.”
“Members of the Democratic caucus have had several discussions about potentially getting tested.”
Possible scenarios for testing before and after coming to Sacramento
The effort to test all members and staff members for coronavirus largely came from a team of Sacramento County Director of Health Services Peter Beilenson and Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova).
“I gave the options of legislators going to be tested by their own doctors in their own districts,” explained Assemblyman Cooley in a press briefing. “And if they couldn’t arrange for that to happen, when they came to Sacramento, they could be tested at UC Davis or UC Davis staff would come and test them at their offices.”
Beilenson further recommended that every Assembly member and essential staff member be tested due to the large number of people congregating in Sacramento. He also noted that 400 tests will be given by the county for this purpose, encouraging Senate members to test as well.
The Senate is currently following “self-assessment” guidelines, with anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms being asked to stay home and not go to the capitol. Sen. Pres. pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) has mentioned that no one has asked for the Senate to follow Assembly guidelines as of yet, partially because of a resolution passed last month that allows the Senate to still function and vote remotely instead of in-person.
“We recognize this is a very fluid situation, and we will continue to monitor and assess testing guidelines,” Senator Atkins said in a statement. “The current guidelines make clear where the priorities for scarce tests lie, and the Senate is not recommending testing for Senators and staff unless they fall within those existing categories.”
“We continue to require essential employees, including Senators and staff, to practice self–assessment each day prior to coming into the Capitol, including taking their temperature and monitoring for signs of illness. Anyone experiencing any symptoms of illness has been instructed to stay home and not come into the Capitol.”
Issues with testing and mandatory testing
The Assembly, unlike the Senate working remotely, has been suspended since March. While a non-mandatory but recommended test for all assembly members and staffers would essentially allow everyone in, a mandatory test could leave some members out, particularly those from more rural districts who have not yet received an adequate number of coronavirus tests.
“I’ve gotten several e-mails about testing so far,” noted “Dana,” who works at the State Capitol in Sacramento. “None of them have said I have to. And that’s the thing. I’m stuck at home right now away from everything. I haven’t gotten tested yet. A lot of us haven’t because we feel that we either didn’t need it or because we wanted to leave any open tests up for those who need it more, like medical workers. or the elderly.”
“If it’s mandatory before May 4th, me and many other people might have to take one of the UC Davis tests. We still need to take precautions, but demanding mandatory tests from districts that haven’t even yet had triple digits of infected people seems to be a bit too overboard.”
When asked about those who couldn’t get a test because of low supplies, those who refuse to take a test, what would happen to any Assembly member not allowed in even though it’s illegal to vote remotely in the Assembly, if positive-tested members would be named, and other similar issues, Assembly member Cooley had no answers, despite being less than a week away from reopening the Assembly.
“I don’t really have an answer,” stated Assemblyman Cooley. “I don’t really feel I can force the issue. But I honestly feel the lawyers will definitely weigh in on members and employees.”
The Assembly is, as of Monday, set to reopen on May 4th.
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