Q&A: Sen. Pat Bates on the legislative response to COVID-19

State Senator Pat Bates represents California’s 36th Senate District in Orange and San Diego Counties. Sen. Bates serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and is a member of the Rules Committee, among several committee appointments. She was also recently appointed Vice Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response which held its first meeting last week.

In this Q&A, Sen. Bates reflects on her key takeaways from that first committee meeting, her health bills she is pursuing this year, and programs in her district that are addressing the effects of COVID-19.



Emily Boerger: What is at the top of your agenda as far as legislative actions that need to be taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic? And related, what were some of your key takeaways from the first Pandemic Emergency Response committee meeting? 

Sen. Pat Bates: “Looking at the lineup of bills that have already been introduced but have been trimmed down, it looks like the budget and finance, public safety, and judiciary have the biggest numbers [of bills] going forward.  

So, let’s go to judiciary. There is a very high level of anxiety regarding privacy with regards to the pandemic and the testing. In our first hearing the other day on the COVID-19 Pandemic Committee, this was one of the biggest issues that came forward from the individuals who were providing comment after our presentations…

Then of course the issue with getting the supplies. And then introduced in that discussion, which I’m sure will go forward as one of the big agenda items for our committee, would be the health disparities in the low-income, ethnic communities, and also LGBQ communities because the testing access has been a question for those, let’s say, vulnerable and underserved populations.

I can tell you based on that meeting we had the other day, that privacy will be a huge issue. We have people reporting that they don’t want to be tested because if they test positive it would have a big impact on their ability to work. We already see the economy is in very dire straits here in California. We are looking at about a $58 billion budget deficit right now. So, having to stay closed longer, and if you have a job in the essential businesses losing that because you’ve tested positive, is kind of the end of their economic security. 

So, we have things that will be at the top of that agenda and there will be new legislation that’s introduced to address some of those things that come out of our committee. And basically that’s the purpose of our committee: Look at what we have been doing, look at what we could do better than what we’ve done before, and how to address pandemic COVID-19 going into the future.”

EB: The first pandemic response committee meeting dealt with testing and contact tracing. What are some of the next big, top-line items that the committee wants to go over?

PB: “The passion [during the first meeting] really centered around the lack of testing access to the low-income, vulnerable, LGBQ, and rural communities…and I think that will be a very important discussion going forward. Especially, it was Ms. Bosse I believe from Madera County, who said that they don’t even have the equipment that’s required for rapid testing results…Your contact tracing and your testing demand so that people are getting tested really helps you determine where there are outbreaks and where there are hotspots. 

Then we’ll go to PPE, and this is something that every state has an issue with. Clearly we have to focus on making sure that we have our own supply today and into the future so we never face this situation again of getting, you know, just the components of a testing kit.”

EB: What are some of your specific health-related bills that will still move forward despite session being significantly altered due to COVID-19?

PB: “For myself personally, I have trimmed my bill package. I’ve got three that I think are really important. We have the nuclear generating station in my district, that’s San Onofre. And we’re working with both the emergency preparedness for San Diego and Orange County, and also Southern California Edison on finding a way to continue emergency preparedness there even though the decommissioning is pretty complete. It’s just moving the waste away from the residential areas and the large population areas. But, it remains a very significant public safety issue and certainly a health issue.

We’ve had significant coastal bluff failures, losing our lives over the last year with the bluffs collapsing on people on the beaches. So, I have a bill that addresses that and certainly that’s something that is a public safety issue and a concern that expands past, and present, and future COVID-19 issues…People sitting on those beaches have either been seriously injured or lost their lives from bluff collapse. So, those are two of my top ones because they have to do with other emergencies that could follow us along with what we’re facing with COVID-19. 

I don’t know what kind of problems you are aware of with the sober living homes, the opioid addiction, and the misuse of funds in some of the companies that promise addiction recovery and they’re not doing that. In fact, they seem to be scamming the people with those substance abuse problems. So, I’ve been following that issue since 2014 and we are making some headway little by little in terms of finding some way to regulate the sober living homes… But certainly that is a huge problem and one that interfaces with the pandemic issue because those are homes where you have no real oversight in terms of meeting the health orders, the social distancing, making sure that people in those homes are all tested…. So, my piece of legislation is in a health committee bill that’s taking a look at how to do a deeper dive, let’s say, on making sure that we know who are in those homes, and what their health status is, what their substance abuse status is, and in the event that they become a hotspot, that we have a way to access testing.”

EB: Are there any programs or initiatives in your district that you think are working to address impacts of COVID-19?

PB: “I think the outreach to the senior community…the governor introduced [the Great Plates Delivered initiative] and I was really surprised to see, I thought wow it sounded very difficult, but it’s kind of an expanded Meals on Wheels type thing. But, they had 3,000 people sign up for it and there were hundreds of restaurants that signed up. It’s an economic stimulus and it’s also to help seniors, the vulnerable population, not have to worry about the food, going shopping, and making sure they have a healthful meal…

I was surprised that it was so well-received, frankly, because you have to go through a certification to be a restaurant that can be in the program. But, this is economic stimulus and we know how our restaurants are certainly struggling out there, but also a way to help our seniors who are housebound and maybe alone.

There’s also been a program where it’s well checks, and that has worked great in my district. We’ve had a number of volunteers. And that program is just checking on people that we know are relating to the senior centers in our community to just chat with them. “How are things going? Is everything ok? Are there any needs?” And then a resource file that they can be referred to if there is any special needs. [This is important] especially in that mental health arena, you know, the loneliness. We know that there’s been an increase in domestic violence, an increase in child abuse, and with our seniors there’s been elder abuse, but also suicides…This is what’s happening to that group that, you know, they see a limited time that they have left on the great planet, they’re in good health, but now they’re confined. So, there’s been an outreach to try to engage those individuals in our congregate care or our assisted living… So, I think those have been really important things to reach out to the vulnerable and the lonely.

There’s been a lot in our state and I’m sure in other states where people have come to help others. You know, we’re all in this together…But I think we’ve seen that from our general population which is reassuring.”  

This interview was edited for clarity and length.