Assembly Returns to Session; COVID-19 Informational Hearings
May 7, 2020
The California Assembly returned to session on Monday, May 4 for the first time since the Legislature adjourned on March 16, with the Senate scheduled to return next week. Along with that return came several new practices and reminders that this return to legislative business will be anything but a return to normal. Enhanced health and safety measures for the limited number of people entering the Capitol, legislators wearing face masks during hearings, testimony and public comment provided remotely, and some hearings held in the Assembly Chamber to accommodate social distancing are all set to become the new norm for legislating during the COVID-19 era. Throughout the week, the Assembly held a series of policy committee meetings, which were the first such hearings and committee bill votes since COVID-19 upended the legislative calendar. The Assembly and Senate also each held a COVID-19 related informational hearing, which are summarized below. Finally, both the Assembly and Senate have adjusted their legislative calendars and bill deadlines in response to the lengthy recess due to COVID-19.
The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services hearing on Monday featured panels on two topics – (1) The future of the health care workforce and (2) How safety net programs are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The first panel featured relevant State Department Directors and representatives of hospitals, providers, health plans, and health care workers. The panel examined the challenges these different entities are facing and potential solutions that are available to rebuild the workforce. The second panel included relevant State Department Directors and several stakeholders, including the County Welfare Directors Association. This panel focused on the numerous investments and flexibilities that have occurred in recent weeks for safety net programs, as well as what additional actions are needed to further support vulnerable populations. CSAC provided public comment that highlighted the critical needs to work together to stabilize Realignment funding to avoid cuts to the programs that are most needed during this crisis, to adequately fund county administration costs for the increased workload that is occurring, and to support the healthcare workforce, particularly in underserved areas of the state.
The Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response held an informational hearing on Wednesday to review the status of testing and contact tracing throughout the state. Chaired by Senator Lena Gonzalez, members of the committee – Senators Borgeas, Caballero, Dodd, Jackson, Jones, McGuire, Pan, Umberg, and Wiener – were present in-person or virtually. Full details of the informational hearing agenda can be found here.
The hearing provided presentations from the Governor’s Testing Taskforce co-chairs, Dr. Charity Dean and Paul Markovich. Panelists, including Dr. Muntu Davis, the Los Angeles County Health Officer and Sara Bosse, the Public Health Director in Madera County, provided the local public health perspective for a large urban county and a small rural county.
The committee members asked questions of the panelists in hopes of receiving insight on the current state of testing and contact tracing and the potential for more to be done. Many Senators pointed out the lack of testing capacity in rural areas and expressed their concerns to the chairs of the Testing Taskforce. Senator Dodd inquired about the expertise necessary for individuals to be trained in contact tracing, while Senator Pan pointed out the need for a longer-term and sustainable public health workforce. Director Bosse expressed the many concerns of Madera County and other rural counties such as the lack of rapid testing in rural areas and the digital divide that could cause equity issues in any tracking and tracing effort.
CSAC provided public testimony expressing a deep appreciation for the Senators on the committee who showed an understanding of the COVID-19 related public health needs of counties. This hearing magnified the need for state and local governments to continue to coordinate and expand public health capacity in local communities with immediate needs.