On Thursday, both houses of the California Legislature announced plans on how lawmakers not at the Capitol Building in Sacramento could still vote on bills.
Proxy and remote voting temporarily allowed in legislature
Both houses will employ different methods of remote and proxy voting. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) announced that the Assembly will let Assembly members not there vote remotely through four Assembly leaders. The votes cannot be changed and will only allow votes during floor sessions.
Meanwhile, the Senate will have a split system. Senators can only vote remotely during committee hearings. For Senate votes, all Senators must be present to cast their votes with no proxy voting being allowed.
In addition, a quorum of in-person voters will be held at all times during votes in both houses.
Both the Senate and Assembly are expected to return to work next week after an extended Summer recess. Another few weeks were added to clean and improve hygienic conditions in the Capitol Building and adjacent offices following a small outbreak of COVID-19 in early July struck the buildings. A handful of people, including Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina Del Rey) and Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), had contracted the virus while working there.
Lawmakers now face a similar situation in August that they faced earlier last month when they approved the state budget: A shortened voting timeline. A two month delay due to stay at home orders earlier this year compressed the state budget hearings, while the COVID-19 outbreak in Sacramento has shaved off several weeks of bill hearings. Many non-emergency or COVID-19 based bills have already been set back to 2021 due to the limited number of days left until the end of the session on August 31st. Now legislatures will have to deal with a mix of remote and in-person votes and discussions.
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures,” said Assembly Speaker Rendon on Thursday about the remote and proxy voting.
Concerns over proxy and remote voting
However, many are calling into question whether proxy or remote voting should be allowed.
“This can be dangerous if we aren’t all monitoring it,” said reform advocate and former lobbyist Gary Bradley in an interview with the Globe. “Voting by proxy for instance. What if new info comes out on the floor – can they change their vote? What is guaranteeing that their vote stays that way? Is there a time limit on vote submission? Can the assemblyman or woman be nudged in a certain direction by someone with them on the other side?”
“It’s not fully transparent. The same goes for the Senate. Committee votes are important, and it’s the same thing: we’re not seeing them vote. We’re not seeing everything going on. I’ve seen state legislators where Assemblymen reach over desks to vote for others not in attendance. What is being done to stop that here?”
However, Speaker Rendon has said that the process he outlined was the best they could do.
“We have determined that this is the best way to continue legislating while guarding individual and public health, in a limited fashion and for a limited time,” Speaker Rendon said.
With no other current options and no lawsuits on the current arrangement of proxy and remote voting holding it up, bills in August will now be most likely decided in part by Assembly members and Senators working remotely from home.