California legislators delay return to Capitol as a lawmaker is hospitalized with COVID-19

The California Assembly in session
The California Assembly, pictured during a session last year, has postponed returning to the Capitol from summer recess because of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Robert Gourley / Los Angeles Times)

The California Senate on Wednesday joined the Assembly in deciding not to return from its summer recess next week, citing the continued spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected several staffers and members in the Legislature.

The decision was announced on the same day that a second Assembly member, Republican Tom Lackey of Palmdale, acknowledged through a spokesman that he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“Assemblyman Lackey has been hospitalized since Sunday for COVID-19 complications. He is receiving excellent treatment at Palmdale Regional Medical Center and anticipates a full recovery,” George Andrews, the assemblyman’s chief of staff, said in a statement.


Lackey, 61, was elected after retiring from a career in the California Highway Patrol.

The Senate and Assembly were scheduled to return from summer recess on Monday, but legislative leaders issued a statement Thursday saying, “We will resume session on July 27 in order to minimize potential COVID-19 exposure and transmission in the California State Capitol.”

The announcement that Monday’s return was canceled was made Wednesday by Erika Contreras, the secretary of the Senate.

“After careful consideration of the increase in COVID-19 cases in the Capitol community and throughout the state, the Senate has made the decision not to return to session next week, July 13-19,” Contreras wrote.

The decision comes as the number of coronavirus cases in California has surged in recent weeks, with hospitalizations up 44% in the last two weeks.

Six employees of the state Assembly, including Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey), have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the lower house deciding to delay its resumption of legislative meetings indefinitely. It is the second time since the pandemic began that legislators have called a break due to concerns over the virus.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) had announced earlier that it was too soon to return Monday. “We have taken this decision, as we did in March, to protect members, staff and the public from exposure, and it comes in light of recent news of positive coronavirus tests in the Capitol.”


Rendon told legislators that his office is developing a schedule that will allow pending bills to be heard but minimize the number of days that lawmakers are in the Capitol building, which is undergoing a deep cleaning.

The decision to delay returning to session tightens the window for the state Legislature to act on hundreds of pieces of legislation before an Aug. 31 deadline.

One Senate staffer tested positive last month, while two employees who work in district offices have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The letter from Contreras states that all Senate employees are expected to continue working remotely, while just one staff member may go into each legislator’s district office to perform “essential functions.”

“As has been our practice since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Capitol and [district office] phones should be transferred to cellphones and answered during regular work hours, to continue providing resources, assistance and service to constituents,” the Senate secretary advised.

She said overnight travel will not be approved “except under compelling and unique circumstances” approved by the secretary of the Senate.