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State Lawmakers Ask Newsom To Grant Special Coronavirus Legal Immunity For Businesses

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a revised $203 billion budg...

Photo by Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Above: California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a revised $203 billion budget proposal to state lawmakers Thursday, reflecting an economy and tax revenues hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

A group of mostly Democratic state lawmakers is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to protect businesses from lawsuits if employees and customers catch COVID-19 on their watch.

The request went out in a May 12 letter to Newsom.

The lawmakers want the governor, through executive order, to expand liability provisions to any business that follows safety standards to limit COVID-19 exposure to workers and customers.

“There is existing precedent for protecting businesses from liability that does not arise from a grossly negligent or willful act under the California Emergency Services Act, as state and political subdivisions are given authority to perform necessary functions during a time of emergency,” the assembly members wrote in the letter.

Newsom’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Industry groups worry they will be inundated with lawsuits if they’re unable to stop the spread of the virus to employees and customers on their property.

Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals have also asked for immunity from administrative, civil and criminal liability for decisions made during the pandemic.

RELATED: Senior Care Facilities Seek Legal Immunity During Coronavirus Pandemic

The virus has devastated senior care facilities nationwide.

In San Diego County, nearly half of the more than 220 deaths are tied to these facilities.

Consumer advocates are tracking the immunity requests and hope to scuttle them.

“We've seen broad, broad requests for immunity from the business communities all over the place,” Micha Star Liberty said. “We are doing our best to make sure that Californians, workers, who fall ill, have the right if someone intentionally harms them through negligence to recover for those damages.”

It’s unclear whether state lawmakers will approve legislation granting them special protection during the pandemic if Newsom does not sign an executive order. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said in a statement she hasn’t seen any legislative language on the issue yet.

“Advocates on all sides are expressing their views,” Atkins said. “This is an area that will require thoughtful consideration as we continue dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath.”

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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