So many storylines could have caught on when California law adjourned the year on Monday – responding to a public health emergency, demands for racial justice, advancement in alleviating the state's homelessness, and housing crises.
Most notably, however, the final hammer fell into the two houses just before midnight, an unmistakable sense of absence.
It went beyond the 10 senators quarantined after possible COVID-19 exposure and the empty offices and hallways of the State Capitol, where lobbyists and lawyers usually add rhythm and pace to the government process.
The sense of absence that lingered on the last day of the legislature was more of what didn't happen and the unwavering feeling that lawmakers are going home with accomplishments that are being matched by the deep problems faced by communities across California.
"I'm dissatisfied," said MP Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles). “On the one hand, we hold existential conversations about work and the zeitgeist, the cultural zeitgeist. On the other hand, we are looking at very real and tangible problems that have yet to be resolved. "
Some degree of dissatisfaction seemed inevitable, given the sheer scale of the crisis and the public health needs that were limiting the pace of activity in Sacramento. In discussions with elected officials, employees and political representatives, however, a portrait emerges of a legislative year in which even a deadly pandemic did not change the foundations of partisan policy. Others also pointed to a legislature that was marginalized twice – in March and again in July – when Governor Gavin Newsom acted unilaterally.
"We did not have an opportunity to be an equal branch of government," said MP Chad Mayes (I-Yucca Valley). "But you can't hold the administration responsible. It's our responsibility."
Perhaps the most telling sign of a missed year was the ongoing talk of whether Newsom should convene a special session of the legislature between Labor Day and November 3rd election day to address some of the state's most pressing issues.
Republicans went so far as to officially ask Newsom on Monday to keep her in town, while the Democratic leaders of the two Houses remained silent about the request. While the governor could still call the legislature back to Sacramento, there is no indication that he will.
It wasn't the year anyone expected, of course. Newsom dedicated its entire State of the State address in February to a call for swift and comprehensive action to stem the California homeless crisis. In the same week, the legislature presented the last of 2,203 legislative proposals.
Everything changed two weeks later when Newsom declared a nationwide emergency in response to the coronavirus. By the end of the month, the Senate and Congregation accepted the advice of public health officials and suspended all personal trials in Sacramento – but not until Newsom was authorized to spend as it saw fit to help the $ 1 billion Combat the spread of the virus.
The governor's far-reaching actions soon became a source of friction with lawmakers. Democrats and Republicans alike failed because of his use of emergency powers. They criticized Newsom for lack of transparency in a nearly $ 1 billion deal to buy protective masks and equipment from a Chinese electric car company that has been retrofitted to manufacture pandemic retrofits. They resisted when Newsom asked for additional purchasing power, and they interviewed dozen of executive orders that were being issued while told to stay away from the state capitol.
Legislators came back 45 days later, but the die had already been cast. After wasting weeks reviewing ideas and collecting public input, the vast majority of the bills were abandoned. New proposals to address the COVID-19 crisis were tabled, but then another emergency emerged: a projected budget deficit of $ 54.3 billion, which, unlike every financial crisis in the state's history, needed to be cleared before the end of June .
"When we came back, the environment to get things done was very challenging," said Mayes.
And they weren't back long. After two members of the congregation tested positive for COVID-19 in early July, both houses ceased their Capitol activities again. With the return of lawmakers, legislators and advocates alike found it difficult to move forward under the new conditions, with even less time to devise policy and strict public health rules.
"We're in a mess," Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said in mid-August, weeks before the term ended its 14-year term in the legislature. "Complex laws need sunlight and have to be checked several times," she said. "This (year) has a hectic feeling."
The frenzy seemed to work against broad-based economic support efforts.
In May, Senate Democrats unveiled a $ 25 billion blueprint that relied on tax vouchers and eviction relief for tenants who did not go along with the approval, and the full proposal was never implemented as legislation. The part that went forward – an attempt to provide widespread protection to tenants at risk of eviction – was silently killed by the gathering last month while Newsom passed a more humble law in support of it on Monday, the very last day in court the tenant was sent. The ordered eviction moratorium expired. Their idea of tax vouchers, meanwhile, has been delayed for further study.
In July, the congregation announced its own plan, building on the Senate's efforts by offering $ 100 billion in economic assistance. But most of this proposal also disappeared. The call to extend the state's tax credit to more non-legal immigrants was accepted, but the most rigorous promise, a state-funded expansion of unemployment benefits to replace the expired federal money, quietly faded away.
While lawmakers often discussed the plight of unemployed workers, business owner representatives wondered if someone cared about employers.
"Legislators like to say they want to help small businesses," said Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Assn. "But it gets annoying after a while if you don't see follow-up."
Condie said he found little appetite with lawmakers to extend eviction protection to small businesses like restaurants. His organization's latest survey of restaurant owners found that most will run out of federal paycheck protection program loan funds before the end of September.
"You will absolutely see it" in their legislative districts when they go home this week, Condie said of the impending restaurant collapse. “There is an ecosystem around a restaurant. You see this crisis cascading outwards. "
Liberal activists also criticized the limits of what lawmakers were willing to do. Last week a group called Commit to Equity used lights to project “Countdown to Catastrophe” outside the State Capitol at night. They had demanded with little reaction that lawmakers impose new taxes on California's multimillionaires. Two bills on the subject never got a vote in committee.
Kamlager said that among her own frustrations was the need to do more on economic issues, make more substantial social justice efforts, and make significant efforts to alleviate the California real estate crisis. And she noted how difficult it is for lawmakers to break away from governance by “owning” an issue and earning political praise for a more collaborative approach.
"People want direction," she said. "And they want to know that we are listening."
Mayes, a former leader of the Republican Caucus in the congregation who re-enrolled in 2019 with no party preference, said the cost of inaction is often outweighed by the political consequences of wrongdoing.
"Fear is a powerful motivator," he said. "And what happens in the end is that everyone falls back on the simplest."