SACRAMENTO (AP) – State senators were scheduled to receive a refresher course in ethics on Wednesday, the fallout from a series of legal cases involving Democratic lawmakers this year.
Two were charged with corruption and bribery, while a third was convicted for perjury and voter fraud.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg canceled committee hearings and ordered lawmakers and their top aides to devote the day to ethics training at a state library building and inside the Capitol. The purpose of the closed-door sessions was to reflect on the Legislature’s current practices and prevent lawmakers and staff from putting themselves in compromising situations, he said.
“It is always important to look inside and to be reflective and to ask, ‘Well, what practices are there that we ought to be looking at? What should we change?'” said Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat.
Earlier this month, the Senate suspended Sens. Ronald Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco after they were indicted on federal criminal charges. Calderon is accused of accepting $100,000 in bribes for friends and family in exchange for influencing legislation, and Yee was charged with accepting bribes and orchestrating weapons trafficking to help pay off campaign debts.
Both pleaded not guilty. A third Democrat, Sen. Rod Wright, also was suspended after being convicted earlier this year of voter fraud and perjury for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County. His sentencing is scheduled for next month.
Wednesday’s schedule includes a presentation about creating a culture of ethics by Scott Raecker, chief executive of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and executive director of Character Counts In Iowa, a nonprofit housed at Drake University.
That will be followed by a panel discussion led by three election and campaign attorneys, including Democratic lawyer Lance Olson, Republican lawyer Chuck Bell and former assistant U.S. Attorney John Panneton. Senators and staff were expected to be presented with hypothetical scenarios on ethical and legal issues.
Steinberg said it is unlikely such training would have prevented the criminal charges. However, he said there needs to be a discussion about separating campaigning from policymaking, even though money is ingrained in politics.
The goal is “making sure that it’s not just a discussion of what the law is, but making sure that in practice that one never even gets close to a line,” Steinberg told reporters after Monday’s Senate session.
Wednesday’s ethics training is the latest effort by Steinberg to distance lawmakers from the criminal charges and repair the Senate’s reputation.
He canceled a fundraiser to be held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego earlier this month, saying it would be inappropriate in the wake of the charges. The Senate also erased the names and online archives of the three suspended lawmakers.
Lawmakers also have proposed various bills to try to restore public trust in government by untangling the web of money and politics.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.