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Bay Area Headlines: Monday, 5/4/20, AM


Individuals, Groups, And Counties Restless / Assembly Back In Session

Individuals, Groups, And Counties Restless

Small clusters of people set down their towels and umbrellas on Orange County’s warm beaches, yesterday, defying Governor Gavin Newsom’s beach closures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The crowds were sparse but offered proof that despite stepped-up patrols and warnings to stay away, some people were determined to get to the sand.

Meanwhile, two counties in Northern California will allow many businesses to reopen today as a direct challenge to the governor’s stay-at-home order. Yuba and Sutter counties north of Sacramento join Modoc County, which began allowing hair salons, churches, restaurants and the county’s only movie theater to reopen Friday as long as people stay 6 feet apart. 

Modoc is a small county — less than 10,000 people — and has no confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yuba and Sutter counties are much bigger, with a combined population of about 175,000 people, and much closer to the state capital, where many workers commute. Those counties have had 50 confirmed cases of the disease and three deaths, so far.

Assembly Back In Session

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol, today, restarting a legislative session interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, even as a handful of lawmakers plan to stay home for fear of contracting or spreading the disease.

But it won’t be business as usual for California’s full-time Legislature after lawmakers agreed to their first sustained unscheduled work stoppage in 158 years. They will be limited to having just one staff person with them, and nurses will check their temperatures at the door, among other precautions.

Atop the new to-do list for lawmakers: softening the economic fallout from the pandemic.

In the state Senate, President Pro Tem Toni Atkins is not bringing members back until May 11 and has allowed members to participate in committee meetings via video conferencing. The Senate is considering letting members cast votes remotely once the full session resumes.

But Rendon said all Assembly members must be at the Capitol to participate in committee hearings and floor sessions, based on legal advice that any votes taken remotely could be challenged and beaten in courts.

He said anyone who doesn't feel comfortable coming is “encouraged to stay home. We are definitely not forcing anybody to come to work.”

It's a tough choice for the Assembly members who are over 65, putting them at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus.

Democratic Assemblyman Bill Quirk, from Hayward, said he’ll stay home today. The 73-year-old is in good health but lives in a retirement community where many are on oxygen or have other health problems. Quirk said he will watch committee hearings online and work with his staff to win approval for his bills in committee. But his influence will be limited because he won't be able to vote.

The only thing lawmakers absolutely must do is pass an operating budget, and time is running out. Lawmakers face a June 15th deadline for approval or they will forfeit their salaries. Newsom has scrapped his January budget proposal and will reveal a new one on May 14th, giving lawmakers about a month.

With such a compressed calendar, lawmakers are having to rethink their policy goals. The Assembly's 32 committees must share the three hearing rooms that are large enough for lawmakers and the public to stay at least 6 feet apart, so that likely limits the number of bills they can consider.

Before the crisis hit, legislative leaders wanted to borrow about $4 billion to prepare California for climate change disasters such as wildfires and flooding. Now, lawmakers are discussing adding more money and projects to the bill to jump-start the struggling economy, what many believe is the best option for a state stimulus package. While Congress can pass trillion-dollar aid packages to give cash to businesses and citizens, the California Constitution requires a balanced budget.