The California Legislature voted to suspend its 2020 session for nearly a month in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has infected hundreds of Californians and killed at least six people.
Lawmakers Monday night voted unanimously to recess from March 20 until April 13, though that date is subject to change.
The decision concluded a tense day at the Capitol during which the Senate and Assembly each gathered for about seven hours to pass a relief package that sends $1.1 billion in support to hospitals, facilities, local governments and schools to mitigate the spread of the virus called COVID-19.
“Responding to the coronavirus is one of the biggest challenges to face the California Legislature in modern times,” said Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “The responsible thing for us to do is flatten the curve, reduce transmission, keep our health care system above water. That is the intent of the action we are taking.”
The Senate also approved the suspension on a 32-0 vote. Capitol and district staff will be allowed to work from home or remotely during the break.
The votes followed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order on Sunday asking Californians over age 65 to isolate themselves at home.
On Monday, Democratic leaders in both the Senate and Assembly had allowed members older than 65 to miss session on Monday, though several members who met that criteria still showed up for votes.
“The passage of this motion gives me no pleasure, but it’s necessary,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, before the Assembly approved the break on a 68-0 vote. “It is a request to step away from our desks much earlier than we’d like. The demands of public health require it.”
Newsom also announced late Monday an executive order that allows local jurisdictions to ban evictions and home foreclosures for residents who can’t pay the bills due to the financial squeeze of the coronavirus. He said Californians should stop gathering in groups entirely for the foreseeable future and that he now recommends restaurants stop serving meals in their establishments.
“These will be challenging times and California is mobilizing every part of government to protect and isolate residents most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Newsom said in a statement.
The governor said Monday evening that the number of infected Californians has increased to 392, a 15 percent increase from the day before. At least six people have died, though two more on Monday were announced, a homeless person in Santa Clara County and another person in Sacramento County.
Rendon said the break was “not a vacation” and that the Legislature’s work to combat homelessness, address income inequality and stymie climate change remains a high priority.
Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield said the break will allow members to more closely work in their communities, hard hit by school closures, economic uncertainty and, in some areas, growing clusters of the virus.
“Our work will become harder than all of us being right here in this building trying to address legislative issues that might come up,” Grove said. “We are headed home to harder work than we’ve ever faced in this building.”