SACRAMENTO (AP) — A leader of the California Senate says the Legislature will not reconvene on April 13 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Given what the governor and our public health officials have stated, it has become increasingly clear that the April 13th return date the Legislature envisioned isn’t feasible,” Sen. Toni Atkins, president pro tempore of the Senate, said Friday in a statement first reported by Voice of San Diego. “Our top priority has to remain helping flatten the COVID-19 transmission curve to prevent our health care systems from being overwhelmed.”
The California Legislature recessed on March 16 shortly after approving a $1 billion spending package to address the COVID-19 outbreak. It was believed to be the first unexpected work stoppage for the California Legislature in 158 years, according to Alex Vassar, an unofficial legislative historian at the California State Library.
California is still under a mandatory “stay at home” order that has closed schools and most businesses. The state has more than 11,100 cases and more than 245 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Local governments and state boards and commissions have continued to meet via teleconference and other electronic means, actions made possible because Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended portions of the state’s open meeting laws that required public bodies to vote together in public.
But those laws don’t apply to the state Legislature, where actions are governed by the state Constitution. Before recessing, the state Senate unanimously agreed to change its rules allowing the Legislature to meet remotely. But the state Assembly did not do that because leaders questioned the legal authority for the Legislature to meet remotely.
Some state legislatures have met remotely, although under rules set forth by their state constitutions. Others have more creative solutions. In Arkansas, lawmakers met in a 5,600-seat basketball arena to ensure they could stay far away from each other and not spread the virus.
Unlike most states, California lawmakers are full-time. But they still have deadlines to pass bills. The next big deadline is May 29, when bills must have passed at least one chamber to have a chance of becoming law this year.
It’s unclear when the Legislature will reconvene. The only thing the constitution requires they do this year is pass an operating budget by June 15. If they don’t, lawmakers won’t get paid.