SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — While state lawmakers passed key bills, some are arguing the legislature passed on a chance to improve the public’s perception of them.
Political expert Steve Swatt says while the legislative session was very productive, he knows that won’t be the headline from the recently completed two-year legislative session at the state Capitol.
Three Democratic state senators were suspended during the year, and a fourth recently was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
As Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg took his final bow as senate leader, he was forced to make statements like this:
“The behavior of a few does not represent the actions or the integrity of the vast majority,” he said.
But still, Swatt points out the vast majority of the public are left shaking their heads.
“I think the public generally is disgusted with what they see at the state Capitol and it’s driven a lot by the scandals that seem to be cropping up every week,” he said.
Lawmakers had their chance to at least attempt to change that perception, including getting a ballot initiative in front of voters that would suspend the pay and benefits for any legislator that gets in trouble with the law and is suspended.
Currently, a state Constitutional amendment puts the legislators’ pay and benefits in the hands of the hands of the California Citizens Compensation Commission. That body cannot take action on an individual legislator and can only change pay across the board.
Steinberg’s office declined to go after the pay of suspended state senators Leland Yee, Roderick Wright and Ron Calderon, citing a New Jersey court ruling saying a state legislator’s pay shouldn’t have been suspended because the head of the legislatures lacked the authority to do it.
Because no action was taken, and the way the commission works, the suspended senators collected a 2 percent raise along with the rest of the legislature.
The ballot initiative to correct this passed, but it missed the deadline for it to appear on the November ballot.
“That was our original intent certainly but it’s an important issue but I think there are lots of other important issues as well so overall in balance i’m feeling pretty good right now,” Steinberg said.
Voters may not be feeling so good to find out they’ll have to wait until 2016 to give their opinion on whether suspended lawmakers should still get paid.
That’s not the only place where legislators came up short. A bill that would have forced political ads to reveal their Top 2 donors failed to pass. Another bill would have given legislative aides and staff an avenue to complain if they felt their legislator was being unethical in any way.
Legislators did approve cutting down on the perks they get, meaning no more free tickets to sporting events or concerts.