As devastating wildfires rage across the state, the California state legislature is racing the clock to meet the August 31st deadline. With less than one week remaining of the 2019-2020 legislative session, many debates remain on issues from unemployment insurance and economic recovery to law enforcement reform and environmental regulations. All of these debates are happening under the context of massive budget constraints and two state emergency declarations.
Few aspects of life have remained untouched by COVID-19, and the legislature is no exception to that. An abrupt departure from Sacramento in March and then again in July when multiple members tested positive for Coronavirus has made for an extremely truncated session.
Earlier in the year, leadership of both houses called for members to reduce their bill packages and stick to priority bills around COVID-19, homelessness, and wildfires. Despite this directive, external pressures have led to attention on other topics besides these three key priorities. Beyond proposals addressing the massive public health crisis, the legislature is considering significant and sometimes controversial proposals that aren’t directly related to COVID-19 or the associated economic downturn.
Governor Newsom’s State of the State address, just six months ago, was solely focused on homelessness, highlighting the imperative need to address the issue. Many predicted continued legislative focus on independent contracting, a spillover issue from last year. Economic stimulus, eviction moratoriums, and alternatives to increase state revenue are all slated. Some lawmakers have pointed out the increased need for their pre-COVID priorities, saying the changes are needed now more than ever in regard to proposals on prescription drugs, tax increases on the wealthiest Californians, and policing practices. Power outages, lightning storms, wildfires and continuing coronavirus numbers are all piling on to the growing external pressure as the legislature has very little time to act.
The possibility of the Governor calling a special session is still alive. The high risk of in-person legislating, the looming November election and other forces make that possibility less likely. It remains to be seen if the legislature will be granted more time. For more information on what happens in this pivotal last week, contact Jennifer Saha at firstname.lastname@example.org.