The COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on California’s Legislative Process and Interior Design Regulation

September 20, 2019 — International Interior Design Association’s 2019 Advocacy Symposium, held at the Massachusetts State House. Participants taking a tour. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham Photography.

Published  October 30, 2020

2020 has been a year like no other, COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. As humans do, we have adapted. We have developed new ways to work, to socialize and to practice self-care. Many of us have more time to spend with family, explore new hobbies, and tackle long overdue house projects. On the other hand, the uncertainty, upheaval and unrelenting concern about what the future will hold cannot be ignored. Our society’s institutions have also adapted. Businesses, schools and governments all have changed at least some processes, priorities and timelines. While IIDA’s membership of Commercial Interior Designers, industry partners, and students have all experienced the impact of COVID-19 in these personal ways, the pandemic has also affected the practice of Commercial Interior Design itself from the changing landscape of health and safety within interior spaces to California’s legislative backlog delaying the review of occupational oversight hearings for Certified Interior Designers.

The road from January to now has been dizzying. It was only 10 months ago that Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. California’s cash reserves were high, the unemployment rate was low, and the Governor was positioned to work well with a heavily Democratic Legislature eager to enact progressive social policies. 

Fast forward ever so slightly to early February, when news outlets began reporting that the spread of the coronavirus was imminent, and then to March 11, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. A mere two months after rolling out a healthy and balanced spending plan, Governor Newsom issued a statewide stay at home order on March 19 that shuttered the state economy. California’s budget projections suffered the worst and most sudden loss in history. Seven months later, though the state’s COVID-19 data seems to be trending in the right direction, few among us are willing to declare that an end is in sight. 

California’s state leaders have done their best to respond, but the work of the California Legislature was crippled by the virus. Even the fairly straightforward occupational oversight hearings known as Sunset Reviews were postponed for a year. The Commercial Interior Design Community was directly impacted by the postponement of the CCIDC Sunset Review, which was scheduled for early 2021. CCIDC is the private, non-profit board that administers the CID stamp that many interior designers hold. CCIDC’s hearing will now be held in 2022, giving the interior design community more time to engage with stakeholders and decision makers to influence some positive changes to the way interior design is regulated. 

The displacement of Legislators, staff and other Capitol employees has placed a microscope on working conditions and workplace health and safety. The Capitol, frequently referred to as the people’s house, was under stringent traffic control that stymied the normal flow of operations. A major Capitol renovation project is already underway, and though ground hasn’t yet broken, there will likely be a renewed focus on health and safety considerations that can prevent or mitigate illness. This conversation will not be unique to the Capitol. As the focus of policy-making turns away from COVID crisis response and to prevention and preparation, commercial interior designers have an incredible opportunity to impart their knowledge and inform public policy decisions. Your IIDA advocacy leaders have already started these conversations, and will continue to be at the table when the 2021 legislative session kicks off. 

The intersection of workplace and personal safety was highlighted on the last night of the legislative session when Assemblymember Buffy Wicks was denied the ability to vote remotely, and had to bring her baby to the State Capitol to cast her votes on paid family leave legislation in-person. While that story received national attention, millions of parents and guardians are balancing a need to work with a real concern for their health and that of their family members. In many instances, it is people of color and low income workers who don’t have the chance to work from home. There is a true social justice strand to the discussion on workplace safety, and it’s one on which the commercial interior design industry is poised to lead.

As has been the case for all of 2020, the only thing we know for sure is that the future remains uncertain. With only days until the presidential election, it’s possible that the year’s biggest twists and turns are yet to come. However, California’s leadership and elected officials will enter a new year with some lessons learned from a thoroughly bruising 2020, and will hopefully have the vision and the unity to steer California into a brighter, healthier future.

Christina Marcellus, Capitol Advisors Group
IIDA’s California Lobbyist