The State Of California: Legislative Response To The Virus

While California continues to work through a surge of coronavirus cases, state legislators must now plan for the continued economic and budgetary impacts of the virus on the state.

For more, we were joined KCBS Radio’s "The State Of California" by State Assemblyman Jim Wood, chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

Is a special session needed in the legislature to figure all of these issues out?

I think the consensus among a lot of legislators is that we would welcome a special session, actually probably a couple special sessions that could run concurrently. One would focus on the health-related issues and the actual response to the pandemic. The second one to the economic recovery aspects of this that are so critical to all Californians.

What are the priorities at the state level over the next 30 days and then beyond that?

Currently, we still have business before the legislature, things that need to move. There are a myriad of bills related to COVID, others related to the extension of timeframes for certain programs to operate. There is business of the state that has to be conducted. Obviously, we have made it very clear to the governor and his staff that we are ready and waiting to help with whatever can be done legislatively during this next, less than five weeks now, to move things forward. Some of this, we believe, will probably be a response to the tax receipts and budget and other things that we need to move forward in that direction. There’s a lot going on and a very short amount of time to accomplish it.

How key is federal relief to the budget situation? How confident are you the state will get it?

It is absolutely critical. We in our budget    banked a fair amount on the prospect of federal resources coming to us. How much and how soon will dictate how we move forward, especially come fall. We believe we can run currently, programs through the middle of October. But if the federal government doesn’t come through with some resources, we are going to be really, really scrambling to try to figure out what to do. A lot of cuts and things that we have been contemplating will be back on the table and be front and center. That’s where a special session will be really valuable to try to be able to conduct our business.

Is the state doing enough for nursing homes that have been hit hard by the pandemic?

I believe we’re certainly doing a lot, but I feel like we have been one step behind at every turn. For me, it’s an urgency. When these outbreaks happened in Washington, that should have been the canary in the coal mine for every state, every city, every county to be prepared for this, and we weren’t. We really were not. So we continue to scramble. Part of what I’m doing is trying to push the urgency of getting a handle on this. It is an absolutely critical issue that is terribly sad for those people that have died and their families who are suffering right along with them.

Does California need its own version of a federal Defense Production Act?

I do. Thank you for bringing that up. I have been frustrated by the challenges we have with PPE. Here we are, the fifth-largest economy in the world. We have tremendous manufacturing capacity and we should be able to produce a lot of things in California. What I’d love to see is an urgency to actually do that. I think everybody thought this was going to be shorter problem and we were going to get our arms around it a lot quicker. But it’s clear now this is a long-term issue for us. We’re one tweet away from losing our supply chain. So much of what we rely on comes from China. A bad tweet, a bad day and it all goes down really quickly. I’m concerned about that. I’m continuing to push for it. Certainly, a California version of the Defense Production Act would be really welcome. It would help prepare us, make us stronger, more resilient for the future because we never know what the next thing is coming.

How can we still not have enough masks five months into this?

It’s a supply and demand (issue). The materials that go into these masks are pretty specialized and I go back to, I wish we could be producing more of our own. The demand has become big and bigger. The reality of the way you use PPE you should be disposing of it constantly. The turnover and the amount that’s being used it just huge. It needs to be used in so many settings. What hurt us in the nursing homes was that they didn’t have adequate PPE. They didn’t. They didn’t know what is adequate PPE. That’s why we should be producing this in-state, anything we can.