Preparing for Future Emergencies

In March the Legislature recessed due to the COVID-19 emergency. This recess was unprecedented in our history and underscored a critical problem. While California lawmakers continued to work from their districts, they cannot vote on legislation when they are unable to meet in Sacramento.

When it comes to technology, our Legislature is stuck in the past. The recent recess and current social unrest have shown that it can be unsafe for Members, their staff and the public to attend proceedings in the Capitol. We lack clear authority to hold remote hearings during emergency shutdowns. This leaves 40 million Californians without representation when they need it the most. 

Other states, along with municipalities and government agencies across the state adopted emergency provisions allowing temporary, remote proceedings.  Surely, California can take similar steps to ensure continuity of government.

I have joined Assemblymembers Mullin, Cooley and Ting to author Assembly Constitutional Amendment 25 (ACA 25), allowing legislators to remotely attend and vote in legislative proceedings during a declared state of emergency. Recent amendments to ACA 25 protect public access by requiring hearings to be open and public. Remote hearings must receive two-thirds approval from Members, and will be allowed only during the emergency when Members are unavailable or cannot safely attend. Any deviations from normal procedures will be subject to judicial review with the burden of proof on the Legislature to prove the deviations are necessary.

The people of California must have representation at all times. With its two-year terms, The Assembly is the house that’s most accountable to the people. Its responsibilities, including oversight and checks/balances over the Executive Branch are critical, especially during a crisis. 

ACA 25 has wide bi-partisan support and requires a two-thirds vote to pass. Finally, it must be approved by the voters before becoming law.