California’s Legislature met and took unprecedented and bipartisan action in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The California Assembly and Senate together appropriated up to $1.1 billion in emergency funding at the request of Governor Gavin Newsom. The funding bills were adopted without opposition in either house.
The bills largely fund measures Governor Newsom has championed to care for those diagnosed with COVID-19 and to combat the further spread of the virus.
The first bill authorizes the Newsom Administration to draw down $500 million initially, and up to $1 billion in total, to help public health officials acquire needed equipment; to lend support to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities on the front lines of combating the virus; and to bring two hospitals online. Funding is also available to assist local governments in reducing the spread of the virus among the homeless.
A second bill appropriates $100 million to help schools in responding to the virus, and makes a number of changes that will waive requirements that would make it difficult for schools and child care programs to comply with emergency directives, and will provide flexibility in scheduling and in providing instruction so that classroom funding and pupil progress are not permanently lost as a result of time off during the emergency.
In an unusual turn, the 40-member Senate and the 80-member Assembly excused members aged 65 and over who did not attend their respective floor sessions. At least some of the legislators did not participate due to Governor Newsom’s request that any resident aged 65 and over voluntarily self-quarantine for their own protection.
Both houses also debated taking extraordinary steps to reduce the spread of the virus in the State Capitol for workers, legislators, their families and the public. The Senate adopted a resolution providing for remote meetings. The Assembly recessed session until April but indicated the house would still get work done in the interim. The sticking point for both houses is a provision in California’s Constitution that has long been interpreted to require the physical presence of a member if the person wishes to participate in and vote on matters coming before the Legislature. The Assembly’s action is consistent with the established interpretation of the provision in light of newer technologies. The Senate’s remote meetings concept suggests it is open to reinterpreting the constitutional provision. In either case, both houses currently plan to reconvene on Monday, April 13, but not meet during the usually busy month of March.