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California Lawmakers Struggle To Conduct Business Amid COVID-19 Lockdown

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SACRAMENTO — The weekend earlier than California shuttered its Capitol constructing, Senate chief Toni Atkins spent hours on the cellphone ― taking the roles of a scholar studying from epidemiologists and a legislator discussing with colleagues how the nation’s most populous state ought to reply to the COVID-19 disaster.

Like many lawmakers from New York to Washington state, Atkins and her fellow Sacramento legislators discover themselves in uncharted territory.

Legislative periods are on maintain. Sweeping initiatives are shelved. State budgets are already squeezed by huge spending on COVID-19.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order in a bid to sluggish the unfold of the novel coronavirus. There isn’t any finish date on the order. Some public well being specialists imagine such measures would have to be in impact for many months to be efficient.

California’s legislature is scheduled to reopen April 13, however with lawmakers training social distancing, it’s not clear that may occur.

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This leaves California’s legislative management with an uncommon problem as funds deadlines draw close to: How do you maintain public hearings to debate spending priorities and vote on payments when individuals aren’t supposed to collect? Do different legislative priorities take a again seat to the coronavirus?

On Tuesday, Newsom’s funds director despatched a letter to state businesses saying they “should have no expectation of full funding for either new or existing proposals” due to deteriorating financial circumstances tied to the unfold of the virus. Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, talked to California Healthline’s Samantha Young about how the legislature can transfer ahead.

Her feedback have been edited for size and readability.

Q: Did you must educate your caucus concerning the seriousness of the coronavirus and why the Capitol ought to shut down?

We had been having to coach ourselves about what all this meant. I ran a group clinic three many years in the past, however I’m not up on the most recent and biggest on well being care, significantly public well being, guidelines, rules, suggestions. So, I pulled in several members of the Senate with totally different ranges of experience.

It hasn’t been with out a number of questions, nervousness and concern, however we’ve labored via it, and I really feel fairly good concerning the Senate and the legislature’s response — and in working with the governor.

Q: One Republican lawmaker mentioned the legislature’s approval of $1.1 billion in coronavirus spending confirmed an unbelievable diploma of belief in Gov. Newsom. Do you agree?

I feel it’s a difficulty of us understanding the gravity of the scenario. My extremely sturdy associate has been the Republican chief, Shannon Grove from Bakersfield. We had been in sync about what we wanted to do. I’d say a measure of belief, however I additionally simply suppose we had been ready to step up and do what we wanted to do.

Q: Lawmakers have a constitutional mandate to cross a funds by June 15. Will you be capable to come again into session and try this?

It’s not precisely clear proper now. If it’s not going we are able to return in session as a result of we have to be following bodily distance tips, then I feel we’re going to have to determine how to do that remotely and meet the intent of transparency, the general public’s proper to take part ― and the way we’re speculated to conduct authorities.

I’d think about if we’re nonetheless within the scenario we’re in, because the weeks cross, with the intention to defend public well being, we might have to take a look at a baseline funds and reconvene after we can to do the work that’s mandatory. It’s a day-by-day and week-by-week evaluation.

Q: The governor and lawmakers had an formidable agenda to combat homelessness and broaden well being care. Will this stuff should be placed on maintain?

In San Diego, we’re transferring to make higher house obtainable in order that non-symptomatic unsheltered homeless have a spot to go, and we now have county public well being in there triaging and ensuring we’re offering companies.

It’s the primary time I’ve seen this type of collaborative, environment friendly effort. In the county, they’re seeing this as a possibility to have the medical workers in place to evaluate all the people, they usually wish to herald psychological well being and alcohol and drug habit, too. And they’re hoping that due to this public well being problem, perhaps we’ll discover a means of working collectively and truly get individuals into models of housing.

Q: What will your priorities be for the state funds? Will the coronavirus overwhelm it?

It’s going to be fundamental companies: public security, schooling, public well being. The very, very fundamentals. We have labored our means again over a decade of refunding schooling, placing extra money into well being care, placing extra money into fireplace safety. Those are issues we’re going to wish to proceed to do.

I feel we are able to alter our degree of expectations as the truth sinks in that we’ve obtained to be involved about preserving our financial viability in California. We would be the fifth-largest financial system on the earth. We might have a funds reserve, however a billion can go in a short time in a disaster.

Q: You described well being care as one of many fundamentals. What concerning the governor’s proposal to increase well being care advantages to undocumented seniors?

Undocumented seniors who want well being care, who’ve labored and contributed to our financial success, must be lined. I see that as a key public well being factor. That is a precedence.

Use Our Content This story might be republished at no cost (details).

This KHN story first revealed on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Samantha Young: syoung@kff.org”>syoung@kff.org, @youngsamantha

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