Like most of her legislative colleagues, state Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) is working at home instead of the State Capitol in Sacramento.
Bills may have stalled, but dealing with the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t. Her 12th Senate District covers parts of Fresno, Madera, Stanislaus, and Monterey counties, and all of Merced and San Benito counties.
Caballero supports Gov. Gavin Newsom’s actions to nearly shut down the entire state while sheltering in place.
One of the last actions legislators took before returning to their homes was to approve a $1.1 billion coronavirus relief package to aid healthcare providers, businesses and schools.
GV Wire spoke with Caballero over the phone from her Salinas home.
Supports Steps Taken by Governor
Caballero backs Newsom’s stay-at-home order issued last week.
“I believe it is the right thing to do,” Caballero said. “(Newsom) recognized the economic devastation of closing businesses and asking people not to be out and about. But if we are going to get a handle on this .. the experts say the only way is to slow it down.”
She added that the only way to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and “avoid the possibility of a very high death count,” especially among vulnerable groups such as the elderly, is to isolate.
Caballero mentioned her 90-year old mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, as one of those in a vulnerable group.
Another concern for Caballero: the healthcare industry could be overwhelmed if COVID-19 continues unchecked.
“Sheltering in place is meant to save lives. And for me, that’s critical,” Caballero said.
Help Farmworkers. Make Them Legal.
Because agriculture is considered an essential industry, farm laborers have been allowed to continue working under state and local emergency ordinances.
Caballero said maintaining the food supply is a national security issue, and she wants the federal government to change policies to ensure a reliable agricultural workforce.
“We ought to do everything possible to legalize their status. It’s my hope that the federal government will take action while it’s passing these emergency ordinances to legalize those farmworkers. It’s the right thing to do. It’s way past due,” Caballero said.
To recognize the importance of farmworkers, Caballero suggests granting them a green card, or blue card — a legal immigration status specifically designated for agriculture workers.
Caballero also wants improved safety procedures because ag is an essential business.
“We ought to do everything possible to legalize their status. It’s my hope that the federal government will take action while it’s passing these emergency ordinances to legalize those farmworkers. It’s the right thing to do. It’s way past due.” — State Sen. Anna Caballero
“As a consequence, (the industry has) a new task … how to keep workers safe, and that the business will train its supervisors to keep people safe,” Caballero said.
Those procedures include hand washing and social distancing.
Adjusting to Working at Home
One of the toughest adjustments to working from home for the senator is keeping in touch with legislative colleagues.
“We have had a series of phone conferences and the difficulty is trying to have a conversation when 40 people are on the phone. It’s just really hard,” Caballero said. “It’s not the same as being in a room and having a conversation.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers are attempting to figure out if they can meet and vote electronically.
Caballero says the Legislature “left things in good shape,” before returning home, the safest option. Medical professionals helped shape that opinion.
“The best solution was going to be for us to stay home and continue doing our work, because obviously we need to hear from the constituents what’s happening in their life and how we can be helpful,” Caballero said.
Working in Sacramento made social distancing nearly impossible. Senators sat closer than six feet on the floor. Caballero said nearly 100 people came to her office daily to discuss the state budget.
“I made the decision, I wasn’t going to be shaking hands. We did the elbow bump because I knew that this virus had the potential to be very dangerous,” Caballero said.
Not seeing her staff on a daily basis makes work difficult, but Caballero’s proud of her staff for coming through.
“It’s much more efficient to be all together and to be able to say, ‘here’s what we’re going to do,’ and everybody goes and does it,” Caballero said. “When you’re doing it over the phone, it’s a little bit more difficult. But you know what? We’re getting it done.”