California lawmakers attempting to help the state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic are grappling with whether to continue to meet as a legislative body or adjourn temporarily to lessen the risk of virus spread inside the state Capitol.
Assembly members will meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of moving up and extending their annual spring recess in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a memo sent to staffers on Sunday night that was obtained by The Times. In the Senate, a source said action on moving up the scheduled April 3 spring recess could happen as early as Monday.
Lawmakers have been told they cannot close the state Capitol to the public when the Legislature meets as a body or holds committee hearings, making it difficult to limit the number of people inside the building.
The potential hiatus of legislative business comes after Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) announced on Friday that all scheduled hearings would be canceled this week “in order to focus on an immediate response to COVID-19.” Since last week, the Senate also has allowed anyone who is 65 or older, at high risk for the disease or who has been impacted by school closures to request special remote work arrangements from the Senate’s human resources department, according to Nick Hardeman, chief of staff for Atkins.
In a staff memo on Sunday night, the Assembly asked its employees who are 65 or older or those with chronic diseases to stay home from work beginning Monday, with telecommute options available to them. The Assembly has told staffers that they can use sick leave or vacation for childcare needs if they are affected by school closures.
“This unprecedented situation is serious and fluid. Our response has to be calm and clear,” Atkins said. “The Senate has already taken steps to make the Capitol safer and help those in the Capitol community as they strive to follow public health guidelines themselves. Further actions are being determined. We will continue doing what is within our power as a legislature to protect the health and well-being of all Californians.”
The Legislature’s efforts to reduce the risk inside the Capitol come after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday that bars, nightclubs, wineries and breweries in California should shut down operations. Newsom also called for people over age 65 and those with chronic health conditions to “practice home isolation.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that events of 50 people or more not be held for about two months.
California has had 335 positive cases of COVID-19 and six people in the state have died.
News that the state Capitol could be among the buildings shuttered temporarily was welcomed by some staffers and lobbyists, who spent the weekend advocating for relaxed telecommuting policies or shutting the Capitol down for several weeks.
The Assembly Democratic caucus meeting scheduled for Monday has been moved to a large hearing room to ensure there is enough room for social distancing recommended by Newsom and public health officials. Both houses of the Legislature are scheduled to meet for their regular floor sessions on Monday.