SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California lawmakers will hold their first oversight hearing to examine how Gov. Gavin Newsom has spent more than $2 billion in taxpayer money in just one month to combat the coronavirus crisis.
Thursday’s committee meeting will be the first legislative hearing since lawmakers recessed on March 16 because of the coronavirus, believed to be the first unscheduled work stoppage at the Capitol in 158 years.
Before leaving, lawmakers agreed to give Newsom up to $1 billion to spend fighting both the virus and the economic calamity it has caused. Newsom has spent $768.9 million of that money so far on things like hotel rooms for the homeless, loans to small businesses and cash for adults living in the country illegally who are not eligible for federal stimulus checks.
But he’s also spent more than $1 billion from other state emergency funds, including $495 million for a contract with a Chinese company to produce up to 200 million masks per month.
The spending has been so frequent it’s been difficult for lawmakers to keep up. Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee chairwoman Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles, wrote in a letter to the Newsom administration last week that it needs to be more transparent with lawmakers about the spending.
“Under normal circumstances, the Legislature would have had more time to deliberate an expenditure of this magnitude and would have been allowed to thoroughly vet the details of the contract before proceeding,” Mitchell wrote about the contract for the masks.
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Before recessing, the Senate voted to change its rules to allow its members to participate in hearings remotely. Some lawmakers are expected to do that on Thursday.
California has more than 26,800 confirmed cases and more than 860 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Legislative leaders have urged people not to attend the hearing, but to watch it online instead. Public comment can be done in writing or over the phone. The number to call is not available yet.
The Capitol has been closed to the public, but it will be open for the hearing on Thursday. Seating will be limited because of social distancing. Anyone who does attend will have their temperature checked and is encouraged to wear a mask.
“We must balance the opportunity for the public to participate in the legislative process with the critical need to protect public health,” lawmakers wrote in a memo posted to the committee’s website.