SACRAMENTO (AP) — California voters will decide in June whether to allow state lawmakers to revoke their colleagues’ pay following the Legislature’s 2014 ethics crisis that saw three senators put on leave as they faced felony allegations.
Proposition 50 is the only statewide measure on California’s June 7 ballot, but has drawn little attention and reaped no cash in support or opposition — in stark contrast to high-profile primary races this election cycle.
The proposal asks voters to amend the state constitution to give two-thirds of a chamber’s members the power to suspend their peers with or without pay. Its passage would signify voters approve of recent suspensions made under rules lawmakers wrote for themselves.
Sens. Leland Yee and Ron Calderon were suspected of accepting bribes, and Rod Wright had been convicted of lying about where he lived when their colleagues voted to suspend them in March 2014. But a state law barring legislators’ salaries from being reduced during their terms meant the three Democrats continued collecting paychecks.
Jim Mayer, chief executive of California Forward, a nonpartisan think-tank that supports Proposition 50, said it would give lawmakers a way to discipline peers suspected of wrongdoing without hindering their due process, by blocking their pay.
“To expel everybody who’s charged would be to undermine one of the most basic principles of justice in the United States,” Mayer said.
The law already allows a chamber to expel a member with a two-thirds vote, which would automatically terminate their pay.
Yee and Calderon rode out the remainder of their terms on suspension and each collected another $65,000, records from the state controller’s office show. Wright’s pay ended when he resigned in September 2014.
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who cast the single “no” vote on the 2014 suspensions, contends Proposition 50 would allow two-thirds of lawmakers to impose taxation without representation on Californians by leaving those districts without anyone to represent them in the Legislature.
He and Jon Fleischman, publisher of the conservative news site Flash Report, argue the proposal is a toothless political maneuver that’s been wrongfully painted as a fix for lawmakers’ rare criminal behavior.
“It gives voters nothing except a false sense of fighting corruption in Sacramento,” Fleischman said.
Although some lawmakers have resigned amid scrutiny, 2014 was the first time in 109 years that a legislator was suspended or expelled.
The California Senate voted in 1905 to expel four colleagues who were charged but not convicted of bribery, which the San Francisco Call newspaper reported was the first time any state legislature had expelled a member for bribery.