(TNS) — California lawmakers set aside up to $1.1 billion Monday for health care needs, homelessness services and school cleaning to help the state deal with crushing costs being brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
The two-bill package passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously only a few hours after it was introduced, a reflection of how pressing both Democrats and Republicans have come to see the situation. Gov. Gavin Newsom made an emergency request for the money, allowing lawmakers to waive a requirement that the measures be in print for at least 72 hours before they could be taken up for a vote.
“By taking this action, we are placing an extraordinary degree in trust in Gov. Gavin Newsom,” said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake (San Bernardino County). “However, these are extraordinary times, and it makes sense to concentrate decision-making authority to a place where it does expedite getting these funds to the vital uses that will prevent the spread of this coronavirus.”
One of the bills allows Newsom to immediately tap into $500 million from the general fund, and potentially up to $500 million more, for any purpose related to his declaration of a state of emergency earlier this month. That could include bringing two additional hospitals online and buying extra equipment, providing hotel rooms to homeless people, cleaning child care facilities so they can remain open, and funding strike teams that can help senior citizens isolated at home.
A second bill sets aside $100 million for schools to pay for cleaning, including protective equipment, supplies and labor. The money will be divided based on district size, though none will receive less than $250 per school. Both measures still must be signed by the governor.
Other proposals that have been floated to deal with the pandemic will be delayed as the Legislature takes an extended recess while the state urges greater social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. The Senate and the Assembly voted Monday to suspend their sessions until April 13. About two dozen of the 120 legislators are over age 65, and some did not come to the Capitol on Monday, a day after Newsom urged California seniors to isolate at home because they are at heightened risk of suffering the worst effects of the coronavirus.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said he would pursue a statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium for people losing jobs and income as communities shut down, while Sens. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, announced plans for a bill halting evictions of small businesses. Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, said he would carry a bill giving schools more flexibility on how they make up the instructional time lost while they are closed.
Even if legislators act quickly, the laws would not take effect until next year unless they pass with an urgency clause, which requires a two-thirds vote of both houses. Democrats control both the Assembly and Senate by greater margins than that.
Meanwhile, when the Legislature returns next month, its focus will likely be dominated by passing the state budget, which it must do by June 15 to meet a constitutional deadline. It’s not yet certain how much that process will be reshaped by the chaos of the financial markets, but Ting, the Assembly budget committee chair, said he has been in constant communication with Newsom administration officials about the need for more funding to address the outbreak.
“Obviously, this budget has now been taken over by the coronavirus. Period,” Ting said.
Dozens of budget trailer bills, which make changes to state law to implement the spending proposals, could also become vehicles to advance unrelated policies dealing with coronavirus, because they take effect immediately.
“We are in a state of disaster, so we’re going to have to be using all of the levers of government to respond as quickly as possible,” Ting said. “Everybody’s just beginning to come to grips with how big and broad this virus will spread.”
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