California lawmaker brings newborn to Assembly floor after being denied proxy vote



SACRAMENTO — While remote voting was allowed in the California State Senate on Monday, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who gave birth in late July, said Assembly leadership denied her request to vote by proxy despite Covid-19 concerns.
Wicks, a former staffer for President Barack Obama, traveled to Sacramento from Oakland with her newborn for the final day of session and debated legislation until midnight after she was told that her recent labor did not qualify her as high-risk for the coronavirus.
"Please, please, please pass this bill," she said on the Assembly floor while holding a swaddled 1-month-old and supporting legislation that would make it easier to create multi-unit housing. "And I'm going to go finish feeding my daughter."
The denial of her request to have someone vote on her behalf, even as her Republican peers in the upper house were allowed to vote remotely, caused outrage in a state where Gov. Gavin Newsom has championed a “parents’ agenda” and pledged to prioritize policies like paid family leave. On the same night, lawmakers sent Newsom a bill expanding family leave protections by the narrowest of margins.
Wicks spokesperson Erin Ivie said Monday that the Assembly member was told that her request was denied “on the grounds that maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting.”
According to Assembly rules adopted Aug. 3 in response to the pandemic, proxy voting must be approved by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and eligible members “shall be at a higher risk from the COVID-19 virus.”
In an email Monday night, Rendon spokesperson Katie Talbot stood by the decision.
“The speaker understands that members are committed to performing their legislative duties, while still trying to minimize risk of Covid-19 exposure. The house resolution pertaining to proxy voting is very specific, in that only members at a higher risk from Covid-19 will be considered eligible for proxy voting,” Talbot said in an email. “This bar of eligibility was always intended to be high, to ensure the protection of our legislative process.”
Wicks’ experience blew up the juxtaposition between the Assembly and Senate regarding coronavirus rules. Senate Republicans voted remotely and were barred from the floor during Monday’s final day of session, after Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) tested positive for the coronavirus . Senate Democrats voted in person.
The Assembly did not allow remote voting, with Rendon arguing that bills passed that way could be constitutionally invalid. Instead, a vote-by-proxy policy was put in place for those at high risk of Covid-19, but no members used it.
Much is still unknown about the risks of Covid-19 to newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , but they can be infected with the virus. Pregnant people might be at an increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19, according to the CDC. Postpartum mothers could experience a slew of health issues that would qualify them as immunocompromised, putting them at a higher risk.
Wearing both a mask and a baby carrier, Wicks (D-Oakland), posed for a photo in the Capitol on Monday. It was less than a week after Jones tested positive for the coronavirus, which forced some members of the Senate to quarantine.
“Yep, I’m here! (And so is Elly)” she said in a Tweet Monday .
Jill Habig, founder of the Public Rights Project, a civil rights organization in the Bay Area, called the Assembly decision to deny Wicks' request “absolutely outrageous."
“It puts all of our health at risk to be so cavalier about the spread of COVID,” Habig said on Twitter.
The National Women's Political Caucus of California called Wicks a warrior but said “she shouldn’t have had to” be.
Katy Murphy contributed to this report.

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