California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic reached a new phase this week, as residents were directed by the governor to stay home to avoid spreading the virus, and private businesses, schools and many government agencies shut down nearly all nonessential activity.
While the status of the pandemic changes from hour to hour, here is a rundown of some of this week’s major events (click here for news on tax agencies’ responses to the pandemic):
Governor Issues Executive Orders, Authorizes Emergency Spending
Governor Gavin Newsom, who declared a state of emergency March 4, issued several pandemic-related executive orders this week and authorized $150 million for local emergency actions relating to COVID-19 and the homeless population (specifically, $100 million directly to local governments for shelter support and emergency housing, and $50 million to purchase travel trailers and lease rooms in hotels and other facilities for use by homeless Californians).
Last night, Newsom and the state Department of Public Health ordered everyone living in California to “stay home or at their place of residence, except as needed to maintain continuity of operation of the federal critical infrastructure sectors, critical government services, schools, childcare, and construction, including housing construction.”
The governor said essential services include gas stations, pharmacies, food (grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, take-out and delivery restaurants), banks, laundromats, and some state and local government functions, including law enforcement and offices that provide government programs and services. Facilities that must close include dine-in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, entertainment venues, gyms and convention centers. Public events and gatherings also are banned.
The governor’s executive order states that COVID-19 “has rapidly spread throughout California, necessitating updated and more stringent guidance from federal, state, and local public health officials.”
The updated order expands upon the governor’s earlier directive for seniors over the age of 65 to self-isolate, for all Californians to forego “mass gatherings” that are not essential, and for bars, wineries, dine-in restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to close. The order also expands statewide the stay-at-home orders that 17 counties issued earlier in the week.
The executive orders include one authorizing local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners impacted by the pandemic, and requesting that financial institutions halt foreclosures and evictions associated with COVID-19. The order also requires the Public Utilities Commission to provide weekly public reports on measures utilities are taking to avoid power, water, Internet and other utility shutoffs.
The orders also provide flexibility to local governments to spend the emergency funds, waive regulatory requirements for shelters or facilities built with the money, suspend standardized testing for students in California’s K-12 schools, suspend the requirement that employers file 60-day notices under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN notices) before mass layoffs, and ease restrictions on commercial drivers engaged in support of emergency relief efforts.
Legislature Suspends Session
Both houses of the Legislature suspended activity until at least April 13 – a move that puts a hold on all legislation, including tax threats to expand the False Claims Act and impose headcount and value-added taxes. Additionally, the state Capitol was closed to the public.
While in-person meetings have been suspended, CalTax continues to work on its members’ legislative priorities in anticipation of the Legislature’s return, communicating with legislative staff, CalTax members and stakeholders on a regular basis. In compliance with state and county directives, CalTax this week instituted a work-from-home policy.
The legislative break was approved with unanimous, bipartisan votes in both houses. The resolution approved by lawmakers (ACR 189, Rendon) specifies that the recess may extend beyond April 13 if the governor declares that home isolation or similar preventive measures are necessary.
Prior to adjourning, the Legislature passed the measures that allowed the governor to allocate emergency funds: SB 89 (Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee), which appropriates $500 million and authorizes up to $1 billion for the purpose of aiding the governor’s March 4 proclamations; and SB 117 (Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee), which ensures that school districts closed due to the pandemic will not lose state funds that are based upon pupil attendance.
The bills were approved with bipartisan support. The votes marked the first time the Legislature exercised its authority to approve measures that have not been in print for at least 72 hours if the legislation addresses an emergency declared by the governor.
The Legislature continues to face a constitutional deadline to pass a state budget by June 15, for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The legislative analyst has suggested that lawmakers could approve a “workload budget” that simply extends existing programs, to keep the government operating while the longer-term ramifications of the pandemic are examined.
Governor Gavin Newsom still is expected to present the Legislature with a revised state budget proposal in May. Since the state extended the Franchise Tax Board’s filing deadlines, the governor’s estimates of state revenue collections will be less concrete than in a typical year.
Nearly 99 percent of schools in California are closed, and Governor Newsom said March 17 that he expects them to remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
“This is a very sobering thing to say,” Newsom said during a press conference as he warned that schools are unlikely to reopen until the next school year begins. “I don’t want to mislead you.”
EdSource reported that at least 6,065,337 students in California were affected by school closings as noon March 18, and added: “99.6 percent of the state’s school districts (939 districts) have already closed or announced they will close due to the virus.”
On March 16, the California Supreme Court issued an order amending oral argument procedure and issuing guidance to California trial courts.
According to the order from Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, the court will adopt the following procedures until “deemed prudent to resume normal measures”:
- In-person oral argument is suspended. Counsel will appear remotely via video, telephone conference, or other electronic means.
- All oral argument sessions will be held in the court’s San Francisco courtroom.
- While oral argument sessions will continue to be open to the public, seating will be strictly limited to keep appropriate distancing.
Cantil-Sakauye said she has signed more than 50 emergency orders allowing trial and appellate courts to declare holidays to recalculate filing deadlines, extend filing deadlines for documents, and reschedule in-person hearings.
Some courts have chosen to close or significantly reduce access to the courthouse. For example, Alameda County Superior Court asked for an emergency order to close the courthouse from March 17 to April 7 to comply with the county’s “shelter in place” order.
Several counties released jail inmates early as part of their efforts to stop the pandemic. In Los Angeles County, the Sheriff’s Department reduced its inmate population by 6 percent in the last three weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported. District Attorney Jackie Lacey said her office will consider reducing bail for thousands of nonviolent offenders. The county sheriff said he is expediting the release of inmates with fewer than 30 days of jail time left and is citing, rather than arresting, people whose alleged offenses carry a bail of less than $50,000.
Alameda County officials approved the early release of 247 inmates at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin as part of its effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Earlier, the county released 67 others who are awaiting trial.