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Cutting Bills and Cleaning: How the California Legislature Plans to Finish its COVID Year

Friday, July 17, 2020

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(The Sacramento Bee)

Top California Democrats are asking lawmakers to consider pulling bills and limit policy hearings as they race to finish a 2020 legislative session that was disrupted twice by the coronavirus outbreak, according to a memo summarizing a recent call for lawmakers’ chiefs of staff.

Hundreds of bills are awaiting votes, and the direction, if followed, could squeeze many of them out of consideration.

Lawmakers were originally scheduled to head back to the Capitol from a summer recess on July 13. After two Assembly members tested positive for the virus, that date was pushed to July 27 over renewed health concerns.

The two-week setback exacerbated an already shortened schedule after the Capitol shut down for more than a month in March because of the outbreak. That recess also had to be lengthened due to concerning statewide case numbers.

The sprint to an Aug. 31 session deadline will require both the Senate and Assembly to cut policy committee hearings to just one meeting during the final month of session, according to the July 15 meeting memo obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

The Assembly will have two separate hearings per day in each hearing room, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, with a cleaning in between.

Because the Senate is scheduled to consider more bills, around 540 total according to the document, it will meet for policy hearings on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Senate’s committee schedule was still being worked out, and no specifics had yet been communicated to members, spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez said Thursday.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, have differed throughout the 2020 session on how to legislate during a pandemic, especially on whether lawmakers could participate in voting remotely. Rendon had not pursued that option for his house, while Atkins had.

According to the document, Assembly members are being encouraged to pare their bills down if they have a dozen or more still alive. The memo states Rendon is urging his members to collaborate with Senate committee staff if they have priority bills that risk getting cut.

Rendon is not setting bill limits, however, spokeswoman Katie Talbot said.

Members will finish, as anticipated, with voting on the remaining bills during floor sessions from Aug. 17-31. Per the document, Assembly leadership has not discussed the potential for a special session with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office since early March.

Four vans with installed plexiglass are also being rented by the Legislature to transport members one at a time to the building. Masks are a continued requirement, as is limiting one person to the elevator and staying in assigned seats, according to the document.

Only one essential staff member per lawmaker had been allowed to work in the office, a protocol that will continue, the document states.

Because no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the building in the last week, per the memo, essential staff are being allowed back into the building as early as July 20. Hygiene products like Clorox wipes, sanitizer and gloves are also being offered.

It’s likely staff will continue remote work through at least the end of the year, though that could change, according to the document.

Category: Legislative Affairs

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