The final stretch of the legislative session starts today, and it will be like no other ever experienced. COVID-19 has disrupted everything and the legislative session is no exception.
After taking an extended recess in the Spring because of the pandemic, the Legislature’s schedule was already condensed. Several new infections in the Capitol community forced the Legislature to take another extended recess in the summer, thereby further limiting an already condensed session.
In order to accommodate this time crunch, policy committees will only have one hearing as opposed to weekly or biweekly hearings in a normal session. Committee chairs have limited the number of bills they will hear, leaving authors with no other option then to abandon their efforts this year and try again next year. For some members who will term out this year, this year was their last chance. Even with limiting the number of bills and hearings, policy committees will be held each day of the week, except Sunday, to make sure all committees have a chance to meet. That’s right – Saturdays too. Lobbyists and members of the public will still be allowed to testify remotely through the phone process that was previously set up in the Spring.
And, it appears that some legislators will be participating in committees and floor sessions remotely. Last week Pro Tem Atkins released a statement that the Senate would be implementing remote voting procedures for members who cannot be physically present in Sacramento due to something related to COVID-19. The statement expressed that for now, remote voting would be limited to policy committees and would not be allowed for floor votes – but left open the potential to change that limitation if necessary. Although nothing official has been released by Speaker Rendon, there have been rumors circulating far and wide in Sacramento that the Assembly will be utilizing proxy voting for legislators who cannot be physically present in Sacramento due to COVID-19. The rumors indicate that leadership in both parties will be the members with the proxy authority to vote for those who are absent and that proxy voting will be limited to floor votes.
Many in the Capitol Community have questioned whether casting votes remotely or by proxy is in line with the California Constitution. Whether anyone or organization will ultimately make that challenge is another wild card in this already unpredictable process.
Five weeks to go until this historic legislative session comes to an end.