Lawmaker's positive virus test delays California Senate work

The California Senate abruptly canceled its session Wednesday after a lawmaker tested positive for the coronavirus, putting the Legislature's work in jeopardy as they rush to pass legislation ahead of a Monday deadline.

Sen. Brian Jones, a Republican from Santee, confirmed in a Facebook post that he had tested positive for the virus. Jones wore a mask on the Senate floor Monday, as is required of everyone in the building. He said that he is getting tested again to ensure his results are accurate but that in the meantime, he will follow state and federal protocols.

The delay further complicates a legislative session that's already been put off twice because of the virus. This postponement comes at the worst time for lawmakers because they can't vote on bills after Monday.

The Senate had been scheduled to vote on several police reform bills that lawmakers sought following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in May. Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins said she canceled the session so officials could “conduct immediate contact tracing and inform anyone who may have been exposed.”

“The Senate will be prepared to continue our work when we have completed public health protocols to ensure the risk of exposure has been eliminated," Atkins said.

The state Assembly met as scheduled. But bills cannot become law unless they are approved by both houses.

State legislatures nationwide have struggled to contain the virus while conducting in-person meetings to pass bills, a problem compounded by the questionable legality of remote meetings.

In Mississippi, 49 lawmakers tested positive for the virus, with at least four being hospitalized. In Michigan, the Legislature canceled meetings this month after a senator tested positive.

The California Legislature has changed its rules to allow lawmakers to vote remotely, defying the advice of lawyers who say the practice is likely illegal.

Atkins said the Senate “will use the tools available to us to make sure that we can complete necessary work” by the Monday deadline. But remote voting, if it happens, could make the laws the Legislature passes vulnerable to legal challenges.

A few senators have voted remotely in committee meetings. Others have participated in floor sessions via video conference, but no one has voted remotely on legislation yet.

The Assembly has taken a different step and is allowing proxy voting. Under that process, absent Assembly members will send their votes to the chief clerk by 5 p.m. the day before a vote. During the vote, one of four legislative leaders will formally cast the vote on behalf of the absent lawmaker.