Prop. 50: Tuesday’s stealth measure

A street sign for voters. (Photo by Gustavo Frazao, via Shutterstock)

It hasn’t attracted as much attention as some of the gaudier ideas on the November ballot, such as mandatory condoms in X-rated movies, but Californians will have one measure to decide Tuesday in the primary election.

That lone proposal is Proposition 50, which would allow legislators, on a two-thirds vote, to eliminate pay and benefits for fellow members arrested or convicted of a felony.

Legislators can already suspend or expel a colleague, but there has been no provision to halt pay and benefits for a suspended lawmaker dating i norge. State senators make $100,111 annually, with a recommended pay hike to $104,115 a year from the Citizens Compensation Commission.

Before 2014, the California Legislature had never before suspended a member in its 164-year history.

The Legislative Analyst’s office puts it nicely:

A YES vote on this measure means: The State Constitution would be amended to require a two-thirds vote of the Senate or Assembly in order to suspend a state legislator. The Senate or Assembly could eliminate that legislator’s salary and benefits during the suspension.

A NO vote on this measure means: The Senate or Assembly could still suspend a legislator with a majority vote. The suspended legislator, however, would continue to receive a state salary and benefits.

Proposition 50 is the result of a a series of scandals in 2014.  State Sen. Roderick D. Wright,  D-Inglewood, was convicted in January of voter fraud and perjury for lying to voters about living in his district. The following month, Sen. Ronald S. Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on charges including tax fraud, accepting bribes and money laundering. He awaits trial.

In March, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested on suspicion of soliciting bribes, arms-trafficking and racketeering. He pleaded guilty in an arrangement with prosecutors, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Clearly, 2014 was not a good year for the California Senate.

All three were suspended and are now no longer in the Legislature, but the law didn’t allow their pay and benefits to be stopped while they were suspended.  To remedy that, then-Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, came up with a constitutional amendment that provides for halting pay and benefits for suspended legislators and convinced his fellow lawmakers to put it on the June ballot.

Before 2014, the California Legislature had never before suspended a member in its 164-year history.

A no-brainer, right?  Mere legislative housekeeping?

Not so fast.

There is controversy. The Los Angeles Times urges a vote against it, declaring “… it would violate the right to due process afforded to every citizen of this country, including politicians who are behaving badly.”

Lawmakers already have adequate tools at their disposal such as expulsion, suspension and censure, to deal with errant members, the Times said.

But the California League of Women Voters argues that “Lawmakers should be able to hold their own colleagues accountable if they breach the public’s trust. This commonsense measure was placed on the ballot with strong bipartisan support.”

The San Jose Mercury, in endorsing the measure, addressed a central reason why it’s before voters: “What the option of docking pay does is allow lawmakers to remove an element of public outrage when corruption is alleged.”

Amid the high-visibility clashes Bernie vs. Hillary and the utterances of Donald Trump, Prop. 50 has attracted little attention.  The Public Policy Institute of California, for instance, reports it has done no polling on the issue. “No committees have been established to support or oppose this measure”, the secretary of state’s office reports.

But California voters have been given an opportunity to heighten punishment for state legislators who are either accused or convicted of a crime.  It’s difficult to believe that they will pass it up.

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