On Monday, members of the Assembly reconvened at the Capitol Building in Sacramento for the first time in almost two months.
Assembly back for the first time since March
While expected workloads of bills, committees, and the annual budget are still there, lawmakers now have coronavirus legislation, fallout from Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive orders, a massive budget deficit, increased homeless and affordable housing need, and an economic slowdown to contend with. New bills, such as those putting a majority by-mail election in place for November and allowing lawmakers to vote remotely, have also been added, increasing the docket load.
In addition to all of the added issues, the coronavirus pandemic itself has changed things up at the Capitol. Coronavirus testing has been deemed advisable for all returning lawmakers and their staff, with nurses taking temperatures of everyone entering. If a high temperature is detected, they will be sent back. All lawmakers will also only be allowed one person to go with them with all others communicating remotely. Other precautions, such as mandatory masks and microphone cover protective coverings, were also taken Monday.
“A lot of us still have to work from home,” said “Dana,” who normally works in the Capitol Building. “But I got some pictures [Monday] from those who were let inside. It’s almost spooky to see it like that all empty during the day.”
Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) has said that anyone who fears contracting or spreading the coronavirus should continue to self-isolate. So far, six Assembly members have taken him up on continued self-isolation. But Rendon also noted that anyone who can, should come back to Sacramento.
“The work of the Legislature is essential for democracy, but preserving people’s health as we do that is of the highest importance,” wrote Speaker Rendon in a statement. “We have spent the past six weeks developing a way to continue government with maximum safety.”
Other Assembly members also noted the change during hearing restarts on healthcare and transportation issues.
“I know it’s going to be a very different way of doing business,” explained Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) during a healthcare bill discussion. “But I think it was important for us to be here, to start thinking about the great challenges that we have ahead.”
Assembly and Senate expected to have a busy May and June with bills, budgets, and coronavirus issues
As public witnesses were limited by social distancing and calling in, many bills were almost automatically approved to Committee debate, most notably Assembly Bill 3213, an Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) sponsored bill that will push forward new high-speed rail priorities. A total of only 15 people were present for the Transportation meeting, a far cry from the dozens who would have normally attended such a session.
With many members of the Assembly both in support of and against Governor Newsom, especially because of his executive orders and his timeline in reopening the state, significant debate and new bills are expected to either reinforce or combat them.
“Not a lot of people here are happy that he was the sole one in control for the past few months,” explained Dana. “Even normally supportive Democrats. With the legislature coming back now there’s probably going to be some backlash. Ask any lawmaker. There should be no shortcut around representative democracy. It was a time of crisis, but that’s winding down now. And rectifications will follow. They always do.”
The Senate is expected to reconvene next Monday on the 11th while final votes on bills are expected to begin in June. Debate and voting on the 2020-2021 California state budget is also expected next month and is expected to be debated on more than usual due to shortfalls coming from the effects of the coronavirus and the state lockdown.