Taxes Under Consideration as Assembly and Senate Return to Work

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The Assembly returned from its almost two-month recess May 4 and the Senate is scheduled to reconvene May 11, with several tax-related bills on their respective calendars.

Both houses are implementing special procedures to reduce the potential for spreading the COVID-19 virus. One of this week’s Assembly committee hearings, for example, was held in the Assembly chambers, with lawmakers and staff seated far apart from one another. Public attendance was discouraged, but allowed for those whose body temperature was in the normal range and who agreed to be accompanied by a security officer on the way to and from the hearing. Only one person at a time was allowed in the Capitol elevators.

Despite the economic challenges facing taxpayers across the state, several tax proposals remain under consideration. Tax measures still being pursued include: AB 1860 (Santiago), which would lower the vote threshold for local parcel taxes or sales taxes that fund homeless housing and services; AB 2570 (Stone), which would apply the False Claims Act to tax matters, exposing taxpayers to frivolous suits; and AB 2466 (Bloom), proposing a tax on sweetened beverages to fund a variety of health-related programs.

Lawmakers will have to hit the ground running, as the legislative timeline has been condensed by leadership.

The top priority is expected to be passage of the state budget, as the Legislature faces a June 15 constitutional deadline to send a budget bill to the governor. If the deadline is missed, lawmakers permanently forfeit pay until a budget is approved.

Governor Gavin Newsom is scheduled to release his revised budget May 14, kicking the budget process into high gear.

At least one lawmaker announced he will not return to the Capitol due to health concerns. Assembly Member Bill Quirk, a Democrat from Hayward, said he is in good health but lives in a retirement community where many others have health problems.

The Associated Press reported that Quirk, who is 73 years old, plans to watch committee hearings online and work with his staff to win approval for his bills.

With the condensed timeline, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins announced that senators have significantly scaled back their legislative packages to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Assembly has made no guarantees regarding limiting legislation to pandemic-recovery efforts.

Additionally, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Atkins disagree on the constitutionality of allowing members to vote remotely. The Senate passed emergency rules that allowed for remote voting, but Rendon believes remote voting could be challenged on constitutional grounds. If either house approves a bill via remote voting, opponents could sue to have the vote overturned, Rendon indicated.

Under the condensed timeline, the Legislature will have less than two months before adjourning for a brief summer recess July 2. The Legislature will return July 13 and have until August 31 before adjourning the 2019-20 legislative session.

Both houses have significantly reduced the number of committee hearings that will be held, with many committees scheduled to meet only once (down from three months’ worth of weekly hearings for many standing committees under normal circumstances).