Four years ago, the state Senate was thrown into turmoil by the simultaneous prosecution of three senators on unrelated felony charges.
The Senate compelled all three to step aside from their Senate duties, but could not legally strip them of their salaries and fringe benefits while they awaited disposition of their cases, which eventually resulted in convictions.
In effect, therefore, they received long paid vacations, which didn’t sit well with the voting public, so legislative leaders decided, quite understandably, that they needed some formal procedures for future scandals.
The result was Proposition 50, a constitutional amendment that voters approved in the June, 2016, primary election. It empowered legislative houses, by two-thirds votes, to suspend, without pay, members who either face criminal charges or are deemed to have breached the public trust.
The Legislature has once again been thrown into turmoil, this time by multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
Two Assembly members have resigned, a state senator has been suspended – with pay – and, most recently, an assemblywoman voluntarily suspended herself without pay when she was also accused of sexual harassment.
The latter case is a true bombshell because it involves Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat who has been one of the leaders of the #MeToo movement seeking an end to pervasive harassment in and around the Capitol.
Additionally, there are more than a dozen other pending investigations of harassment allegations.
Once again, however, the Legislature is handling each case on an ad hoc basis, rather than via the formal procedures in Proposition 50.
The Tony Mendoza case is particularly troubling.
Mendoza, a Democratic senator from Artesia, is accused not only of sexually harassing staffers but firing those who complained.
In early January, a formal measure to oust him was in the air, but after a four-hour, closed-door meeting of Democratic senators, it was announced that he would take a one-month leave with pay.
Mendoza was conceding nothing and some senators were clearly concerned that were they to formally suspend him without pay, he might retaliate by airing more dirty linen about other senators.
After the one-month suspension was up, the Senate voted to allow its Rules Committee to extend Mendoza’s suspension for 60 days or until the investigation into allegations against him was completed. Again, he would continue to be paid, contrary to the provisions of Proposition 50.
“In this instance, what we’re doing is suspending him and we’re not having a vote on the floor,” Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican from Alpine, complained.
Meanwhile, however, allegations had been made against another senator, Van Nuys Democrat Robert Hertzberg, but the Senate has taken no action on him.
Mendoza complained that he had been singled out, and in truth he has a point.
Having told voters that Proposition 50 would govern such situations, legislative leaders instead have returned to making it up as they go along.
So one accused senator continues to get a paid vacation, another senator is allowed to continue functioning without penalty and an assemblywoman voluntarily suspends herself without pay.
“It’s not always neat,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said on the Senate floor as it considered the resolution allowing Mendoza’s suspension to continue until the investigation of his conduct is concluded. “It’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s beyond our reach.”
No, it isn’t.
If the Senate, or the Assembly, believes that one of its members shouldn’t continue in the office, the way to deal with it is what Proposition 50 said would happen. The member would be suspended on a two-thirds vote with no pay until he or she is either exonerated or proven to have committed the alleged offenses.
What’s happening now does not bolster the public’s confidence in the integrity of the system – or non-system, as it appears to be.