Assembly Members May Get Tested for Coronavirus Before Returning to Sacramento

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The empty chamber of the California Assembly. (Wikimedia Commons)

California Assembly leaders are considering whether to test all of its members and essential staff for the coronavirus before May 4, when the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene in Sacramento.

Assembly members are being actively encouraged to request tests from their doctors, and the chamber is also asking Sacramento County’s public health officer to provide tests for essential staff.

"The members of the Democratic caucus have had several discussions about potentially getting tested," Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement. "Due to the public nature of our work, the Sacramento County Public Health Officer is recommending Members get tested for COVID-19, and we are taking that guidance seriously."

Assembly Rules Committee Chair Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova,coordinated the effort with Peter Beilenson, the county's Director of Health Services.

"I gave the options of legislators going to be tested by their own doctors in their own districts," he said. "And if they couldn't arrange for that to happen, when they came to Sacramento, they could be tested as UC Davis (Medical Center) or UC Davis staff would come and test them at their offices."

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Beilenson said the same procedure applies for essential Assembly staff.  He said the tests are extremely appropriate given that a large number of people will be gathering during Assembly sessions. The county will provide a maximum of  400 tests, which allows for the possibility that the Senate might want to test its members as well.

However, in a written statement, Senate leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said there no current plans to provide tests.

“We recognize this is a very fluid situation, and we will continue to monitor and assess testing guidelines. The current guidelines make clear where the priorities for scarce tests lie, and the Senate is not recommending testing for Senators and staff unless they fall within those existing categories," Atkins said.

Assemblyman Cooley acknowledged that it might look bad for Assembly members to be able to get tested while scores of other people still can’t, but he argued that they have a constitutional duty to meet and represent their constituents.

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"It's a more fundamental public value, which makes me feel it's legitimate to consider," he said. "Is there some additive step that we might take to safeguard all who participate?"

Assembly lawyers believe its members cannot legally vote on issues remotely, and must meet in person. In contrast, the state Senate considers remote voting constitutional and has passed a resolution allowing it.

But Cooley also acknowledged that testing members and staff now won't ensure they don’t get sick later.

He said nothing has been decided yet, and lawyers are still looking into whether testing should go forward. The potential policy also raises several legal questions, including what happens if someone refuses to be tested and whether a positive result would have to be disclosed.

"I don't really have an answer," Cooley said. "I don't really feel I can force the issue. But I honestly feel the lawyers will definitely weigh in on members and employees."