CBS Sacramento

Constitutional Amendment To Strip Suspended Lawmakers’ Pay Advances In Assembly

June 30, 2014

NOTE: This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

A California constitutional amendment that would strip suspended lawmakers of their pay is a step closer to going before voters after it passed an Assembly hearing on Monday.

SCA17 was crafted in response to the recent legal troubles of three California state senators, and the inability of the state legislature to suspend their salaries. The three suspended senators have cast a pall on the crumbling Democratic supermajority in the state Senate.

Under current rules, the state Senate and Assembly can’t take a suspended lawmakers’ salary, because of a state constitutional amendment, Steinberg’s office contends.

Sens. Roderick Wright, Ron Calderon and Leland Yee were suspended on March 28 after all three refused to step down from their positions.

Wright was convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud in January after his 2010 grand jury indictment. At the time, Senate President Pro Tem declined to suspend Wright, instead opting to wait for his sentencing. Since then his sentencing was delayed in March and again in May until July 21.

Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, were indicted on Feb. 21. Ron Calderon was charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes, lavish trips and no-show jobs for his children in exchange for pushing legislation to benefit a hospital engaged in billing fraud and participating in a film industry tax scheme that actually was an FBI sting. He’s since pleaded not guilty.

Calderon, like Wright, wasn’t suspended initially by Steinberg. Instead, the indicted state senator decided to take a leave of absence in early March.

But following aspiring secretary of state candidate Yee’s March 26 arrest in connection with a gunrunning operation, Steinberg’s office held a forceful press conference demanding the three senators step down. Two months to the day of Wright’s conviction, the California Senate voted 28-1 to suspend the three senators.

The Senate, however, couldn’t touch the lawmakers’ salaries, according to Steinberg. His office instead says an opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau has his hands tied on the issue.

According to documents obtained by CBS13, the legislative office ruled the Senate couldn’t touch the suspended senators’ salaries, because that power falls under the California Citizens Compensation Commission. The legislative office pointed to a New Jersey court ruling in favor of a suspended state senator whose pay was stripped by that state’s senate.

In the months since the suspensions, the commission approved a 2 percent pay raise for state legislators and officers, including Yee, Wright and Calderon. One caveat of the commission is it must act unilaterally on all legislators’ salaries and can’t pick and choose who it goes after. That means raises for everyone, even if they’re suspended.

SCA17 has passed the state Senate, and will be scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly. If it passes, the measure would then move on to voters on a future ballot.

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