The California state Legislature adjourned over three weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, but there’s still pressing business to get done at the Capitol.
Legislation needs to be heard, and there’s a constitutional mandate to pass a budget bill by June 15. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said his proposed budget from January is going to need a major overhaul — but specifics are scant on what it will look like.
Late Thursday, state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins issued a joint statement saying the Legislature will hold hearings about the administration’s response to the outbreak. The two leaders set May 4 as a prospective return date for the full Legislature, but that could be pushed back.
Rendon, who is still working from his Capitol office these days, spoke with CapRadio’s Scott Rodd and Nicole Nixon about lawmakers reconvening, and how the coronavirus outbreak has changed the way they’re conducting the people’s business.
Before the recess, the Senate voted to allow remote voting. Why didn’t the Assembly vote on something similar?
We don't think that remote voting would hold up constitutionally in court. There’s also a lot of problems with public participation. And there's significant technological problems, as we've seen throughout the state and throughout the country. So, I'd expect to see members in Sacramento between now and June 15.
How do you square that deadline with the safety of members and staff?
Our first responsibility is to the 40 million people who live in the state. We know that too many people rely on state services, and we know the state can't function without a budget, so we're going to make sure we meet that deadline. If it means we come back without our full complement of staff, then we will do that. If it means members in at-risk categories, due to age or pre-existing health conditions, can't come back or we don't want them to come back to vote on a budget, then then we'll do that. But we're going to meet our June deadline to pass the budget.
What are you telling assembly members about their own legislative priorities this year?
Look, I got elected in 2012. And my class has lived a very charmed life here in Sacramento. We got here after the recession. I think we're going to have to learn to live within a different set of means. And I think any bill that's going to have a significant price tag is something that definitely needs to be looked at differently. We don't have a sense of what our revenues are going to be yet. We certainly don't have a sense of what our costs are going to be yet, as a state. So I think any bill with a big financial price tag is something we're going to have to take a much closer look at.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
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