Assemblywomen Say Returning to the California State Capitol Comes with its Challenges
California Assemblymembers and the Senate have returned to the State Capitol within the last two weeks from a leave of absence due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
With the assembly returning on May 4 and the Senate on May 11, they have returned to a state budget crisis, new coronavirus bills, and a new way of conducting business in the Capitol.
The pandemic has stimulated a financial crisis within the state and around the world. On May 14, California Gov. Gavin Newsom submitted the 2020-2021 May revision budget proposal to the Legislature.
The revised budget proposal cancels and reduces spending in the 2019 Budget Act, draws down reserves, borrows from special funds, and temporarily increases revenue. The new budget will overall make extreme cuts across a number of state programs.
“The governor said we have to reduce and cut the budget anywhere up to 22 percent. For some of these people, if you put it into perspective, some folks get $788 as their grant on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) a month,” Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D–48) told Scriberr News.
“At the same time 22 percent of that is big time, especially if you’re already struggling,” she said.
Rubio explained budget cuts will be “heartbreaking” because of how many state programs they’ll have to defund.
Some of those programs aid California’s homeless population and low-income communities who use state services, such as food stamps and housing.
“It’s going to be heartbreaking. So I’m trying to prepare, mentally and emotionally, for having to look at some of these folks in the face and tell them that this is what we need to do,” Rubio said.
The state revealed a $54 billion deficit on May 7 with projections for the rest of the year, which includes an 18 percent unemployment, 21 percent drop in new housing permits, and a nine percent decline in personal income, according to Cal Matters.
Gov. Newsom said the revised budget “reflects that emergency.”
“We are proposing a budget to fund our most essential priorities – public health, public safety and public education – and to support workers and small businesses as we restart our economy. But difficult decisions lie ahead,” Gov. Newsom said in a May 14 press release.
As legislators navigate the budget with an approaching deadline on June 15, the number of bills and committees they are permitted to conduct have been rolled back.
The Assembly will only address COVID-19 related bills or emergencies, such as tending to the homeless and wildfires, explained Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R–1).
“The Democrat Party is leading the charge on what bills are being heard in committee,” Dahle told Scriberr News.
Both assemblywoman Rubio and Dahle have been able to present their bills on education.
“I am grateful my bills, many of them slated for hearing, one of which was … an education committee, which is for small rural schools,” Dahle said.
Dahle explained the bill will address how rural schools will be funded.
“How we fund rural schools for a three year average on our ADA, which I think will be very important coming out of this kind of debate for our children and provide some stability in our budgets,” she said.
One of Rubio’s bills concerns higher education, such as colleges and universities, by extending the Cal Grant to private universities.
“Intense job shortage or when people just lose their jobs, automatically, the way of getting back into it is going back to school,” Rubio said. “Being able to have the money to go back to school is only going to help us in the future because now, these folks are educated.”
As lawmakers return to Sacramento, they’ve had to adjust to a “new normal” of business to ensure their safety. Assemblymembers are only with one staff member and they’re required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“I feel safe as far as returning and very confident in the assembly staff and rules,” Dahle said. “They’ve had all the offices thoroughly cleaned, professionally cleaned during committee, [and] wearing a mask.”
Committees are back to full operations, but now they are using a phone system with a designated moderator to identify constituents who oppose bills.
Occasionally, a bill might take 10 to 15 minutes. Still, with technical difficulties or waiting on people to answer, it might now take double that time, causing committee hearings to become even longer.
“They’re limiting physical access into the building right now, but there are phone lines, and they’re doing video conferencing for testimonies and hearings,” Dahle said.
“I’ve sat through several hearings now with the phone lines, and yes, there are technical difficulties, but we’re all working through that. They’re trying to come up with ways to make sure that the public is still being heard,” she added.
Both assemblywomen expressed their gratitude returning to the Capitol, citing that “constituents expect us to be at work for their voices to be heard.”
“And if we aren’t convened together, we have no recourse. So no way of moving legislation forward without being here,” Dahle said.
Rubio believes “we are all in this together,” and they are continually working to ensure safety so that “we can get out of this budget crisis and pandemic.”
“We’re excited to be back, and we hope that we can make everyone proud. I know there’s going to be some hardships and challenges ahead of us, but know that we’re all in it together, and we’re up here, eager to work and eager to make sure that we protect our constituents,” Rubio said.