For now, everything indicates that the government of California will remain fully functional — and at least partially present and open — during the state of emergency Gov. Newsom declared last Tuesday as the Coronavirus pandemic deepens.
Sunday, the governor stopped short of shutting down government, but he called for more social isolation and increased social distancing.
About the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recommendation that Americans stay home as much as possible and avoid gatherings with more than 50 people. That includes conferences, sporting events, parades, concerts, festivals and other social events, including weddings.
Gov. Newsom specifically focused on aging adults who are 65 and older.
“The most important thing is to protect our seniors,” said Gov. Newsom at a press conference Sunday at the Capitol. “In the state of California, we estimate we have 5.3 million Californians who are 65 or older. We are prioritizing their safety because of their unique vulnerability to this virus. We are also prioritizing those with chronic illnesses and our homeless.”
Newsom also put out guidelines for closing bars, wineries, brew pubs and nightclubs in the state. And he called for reducing the guest capacity of restaurants to allow for more social distancing among diners.
In addition, Gov. Newsom announced the quick transfer of homeless persons from the street to shelter in hotels, trailers and other temporary housing. And he tightened public interaction with elderly loved ones in hospitals and assisted living facilities to end-of-life visitations only.
For the state government, a shuffling of in-person meetings, teleworking and digital conferences seems to be the way forward. This will largely be the case for the state as well as county and municipal governments across our state.
Assemblymembers are starting the week with a meeting to discuss taking an early spring recess to avoid social contact as the state increasingly coordinates its response to the Coronavirus crisis. Capitol staff who are 65 or older and those with health conditions have been asked to work from home.
“We play a vital role in protecting and supporting the people in our communities,” said Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Senate President pro Tem, and Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Speaker of the Assembly, in a memo the lawmakers co-wrote to other legislators, legislative staff and other Capitol employees last Thursday.
“We are facing the possibility that some of the ways in which we do our jobs may need to change for these circumstances,” Atkins and Rendon’s statement continued. “This is a time not to shy away from our work, but to be creative in the ways we interact with constituents so that they continue to receive the support, resources, tools and information they need and deserve from their state government.”
This weekend, California Black Media learned that the Assembly Rules Committee sent out another advisory to Capitol employees. It informed staffers with kids at home due to school closures that they can take sick leave or vacation to attend to their children.
“Should your circumstance require additional flexibility,” the memo read, “you are encouraged to contact Assembly Rules Committee, Human Resources to assist with your specific needs related to COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Assembly leadership’s decision to offer time off, flex time and let employees work from home came after Capitol staffers pushed back on Atkins and Rendon’s business-as-usual decision, expressing concerns for their own safety.
Shortly after, this weekend, CBM also learned that the Senate also cancelled hearings it had scheduled for next week and the Assembly gave committee chairs the discretion to cancel upcoming hearings and meetings.
Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, had a hearing scheduled for Monday to discuss ACA 5, a ballot initiative that aims to repeal Prop 209, a law that prohibits considering race and gender in contracting, college admissions and other state decision making. She has not announced yet whether or not she will cancel it.
Because of the sheer volume of Coronavirus stories — and the urgency with which media outlets are pushing them out to keep the public safe and informed — other important news stories will go unreported or under-reported during the pandemic.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on the issues you care about, and keep your ear to the ground for important Coronavirus updates coming out of Sacramento.
Last week, the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) sent out a bulletin informing Californians that, as a result of Gov. Newsom declaring a state of emergency, key legal safeguards in state law that require governments to keep their constituents informed about their activities have been loosened.
“Governor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order announcing that he has suspended meeting requirements of the Brown Act and Bagley-Keene Act in response to the increasing threat posed by the Coronavirus,” the CNPA letter read.
Although the governor advised governments to use “sound discretion” to “maximize transparency” when not adhering to the public access rules he suspended, the CNPA said it is important that the public knows about the new changes.
The state of California has two acts on the books. — the Brown act and the Bagley-Keene act — that give any member of the public the right to attend any government meeting in the state whether it’s the state executive, legislature or a “local agency.”
Those two statutes also require that the public is notified about every meeting, and that the public has access to the minutes recorded in those conferences.
“The order authorizes state and local bodies to hold public meetings by teleconference and to make public meetings accessible telephonically or otherwise electronically to all members of the public seeking to attend and to address the local or state agencies,” the CNPA statement continued. “The governor further ordered that “all requirements in both the Bagley-Keene Act and the Brown Act expressly or impliedly requiring the physical presence of members, the clerk or other personnel of the body, or of the public as a condition of participation in or quorum for a public meeting are hereby waived.”
In his state of emergency declaration, Gov. Newsom said governments are still required to give the public prior notice when they hold teleconferences in lieu of hearings or other meetings. They must also provide a record of the meeting and designate a location from which the public can participate.
“In cooperation with the Senate and Governor, at this time we are continuing to carry out the legislative business of California, with the aim of protecting the physical health and economic well being of all Californians,” speaker Rendon tweeted last Thursday.
“Science and calm are the keys to an appropriate response, and we will attempt to use those as our guide,” he said.
So far, six Californians have died as a result of the COVID-19 virus and 335 people in the state have tested positive.