Legislative and Budget Hearings Cover Telehealth, COVID-19 Impacts, and Homelessness
This week, the California State Assembly and Senate held a number of hearings spanning a wide array of subject areas, including COVID-19, homelessness, telehealth, and proposed budget investments. Below, we provide a high-level overview of hearings held this week:
Assembly Examines Telehealth Policy in California Post-Pandemic
The Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday convened an informational hearing to examine telehealth policy in California following the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The informational hearing provided an overview of telehealth law and policy, the current state of evidence on telehealth and telephone visits, policy considerations for telehealth post-pandemic, and an opportunity to evaluate the recently released telehealth policy recommendations document issued by the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS).
In opening remarks, Assembly Health Committee Chair Jim Wood, as well as Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, discussed the role and importance of telehealth services and telehealth flexibilities made available during the COVID-19 pandemic in increasing access to health services among the state’s residents. Assembly Member Aguiar-Curry has introduced AB 32 requiring DHCS to indefinitely continue telehealth flexibilities established during the COVID-19 pandemic and authorizing enrolled providers to enroll or recertify an individual in certain Medi-Cal programs remotely.
The hearing featured multiple presentations from health policy experts and health providers providing committee members an overview of telehealth law and policy in California, available evidence on the effectiveness of telehealth services, and recommended regulatory and payment changes for telehealth following the COVID-19 pandemic. DHCS Director Will Lightbourne and Chief Deputy Director Jacey Cooper presented the department’s telehealth flexibilities proposed for continuity beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency. Notably, DHCS representatives framed their policy recommendations document as a starting point and expressed a willingness to continue working with lawmakers and stakeholders on which telehealth services and flexibilities should be maintained.
Senate Considers Homelessness Crisis during COVID-19 Pandemic
On Wednesday, the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 3 on Health and Human Services, Subcommittee No. 4 on State Administration and General Government, Senate Governance and Finance Committee, Senate Housing Committee, and Senate Human Services Committee held an informational hearing entitled, “A Perfect Storm: Confronting California’s Homelessness Crisis during the Pandemic.” The hearing provided committee and subcommittee members an opportunity to explore recent efforts to address homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, local governments’ experiences in providing homelessness services and programs during the pandemic, and challenges facing vulnerable populations including transition age youth experiencing homelessness.
The committees received an overview of the state’s recent actions to address the homelessness crisis, including Project Roomkey and Homekey, from representatives at the California Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, Department of Social Services (CDSS), and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Representatives from local governments, including Yolo County, Los Angeles County, and Humboldt County, appeared before the committees to discuss local efforts and experiences in serving individuals experiencing homelessness. Additionally, representatives of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center and a youth advocate discussed with the committee their experiences in addressing specific challenges experienced by homeless transitional youth during the pandemic.
Assembly Explores Impact of Pandemic on Small Businesses
The Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy on Tuesday convened an informational hearing on the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on California small businesses. The hearing featured three separate panels detailing the overall economic losses and impacts of the pandemic, relief opportunities available to small businesses, and program innovations to support the economic recovery of small businesses. Representatives from academia, the Newsom Administration, and business industries presented to the committee, providing insight and recommendations to the Legislature on supporting economic recovery post-pandemic.
Joint Hearing on COVID-19 and the Courts
The Assembly and Senate Committees on Judiciary on Tuesday held a joint informational hearing to assess the pandemic’s impacts on the operation of the judicial branch in California and best practices employed by California courts during the pandemic. As determined by the committees, California courts’ responses to the pandemic have varied and have consisted of a range of activities to balance COVID-19 precautions with the interest of justice. Tuesday’s hearing featured introductory remarks from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, as well as presentations from representatives of California Superior Courts and judicial stakeholder groups and organizations.
The informational hearing included discussions of the impacts of the pandemic on court users, court operations, and court personnel. Innovative programs and best practices were additionally highlighted, providing insight into actions available to the state to improve access to justice during the ongoing pandemic and future emergencies. The hearing agenda is available here and a background paper is available here. A video recording of the hearing is available here.
Assembly Sub. 1 Reviews Behavioral Health Investments
On Monday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services (HHS) convened a hearing to review the Newsom Administration’s proposed budget investments related to behavioral health. The hearing featured representatives from the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Department of State Hospitals (DSH), and the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC).
The subcommittee assessed, among other items, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on behavioral health needs and services, suicide and drug overdose prevention activities, behavioral health services for individuals experiencing homelessness, and Medi-Cal behavioral health proposals. Subcommittee members received presentations from state agency and department representatives, as well as the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). All items were held open for action at a later date. The hearing agenda is available here and a video recording of the hearing is available here.
Senate Sub. 3 Reviews State Hospital Investments
Today, the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 3 on Health and Human Services convened a hearing to review proposed investments falling under the jurisdiction of the Department of State Hospitals (DSH). Subcommittee members received an overview presentation from DSH representatives and reviewed DSH’s response and response expenditures to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Other items assessed by the subcommittee included incompetent to stand trial (IST) program expansions and community-based restoration programming. All items were held open for action at a later date.