California Senate Suspends 3 Democratic Lawmakers

Three Democrats in the California Senate face allegations that prompted the Senate President to demand their suspensions

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Sens. Rod Wright, Leland Yee and Ron Calderon.

    The Democratically controlled California State Senate voted Friday to suspend three Democrats who face criminal charges after the latest lawmaker to be hauled into court refused to step down.

    Friday's resolution was initially expected to address Sen. Leland Yee, of San Francisco, who was indicted this week on federal charges that included accepting bribes and coordinating an international gun-running operation. But a Senate spokesman announced prior to the resolution's presentation that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg also would move to suspend Democratic senators Ron Calderon and Rod Wright, both from the Los Angeles area.

    The resolution was approved 28-1. Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican representing the Riverside and San Diego areas, voted "No" because he called for the lawmaker to be expelled.

    "Leave immediately," Steinberg suggested as he introduced the resolution. "They cannot serve another day unless they are exonerated."

    Calderon also faces federal corruption charges, while Wright was convicted of voter fraud and perjury.

    All three will retain their annual base pay of $95,291 even if suspended, but Steinberg also plans to seek a constitutional amendment on Friday that will deny pay to suspended lawmakers. The state Constitution currently says lawmakers can lose their pay only if they are expelled or resign.

    Steinberg said Yee has refused to resign or take a leave in advance of Friday's Senate session, as he had requested. Even if Yee had sought to take a voluntary leave, "It doesn't matter," Steinberg said. The Senate plans to suspend Yee, he said, and can do so on a majority vote.

    Calderon and Wright previously took voluntary paid leaves of absence, which also let them keep their pay. Prosecutors said Calderon accepted about $100,000 for himself and family members in exchange for promoting legislation to expand Hollywood tax credits and protect the interest of a hospital that benefited from a provision of the workers' compensation law.

    The suspensions would officially drop Senate Democrats below the rare two-thirds majority they won in the last election, a supermajority that allowed them to act in all matters without needing support from Republicans in the 40-member chamber.
      
    Republican lawmakers had repeatedly moved to suspend Wright and Calderon, arguing that the Senate should take an official position sanctioning the lawmakers. GOP lawmakers feared they could rescind their leaves and return to the Senate at any time. The latest move came days after federal authorities arrested Yee as part of a broader corruption probe centered on San Francisco's Chinatown district.

    None of the three senators were present as senators caucused to discuss their fate. Yee's attorney, Paul F. DeMeester, issued a statement immediately after the Senate vote saying suspension was "the right step for now" because it acknowledges the presumption of innocence.

    Each month of 2014 has brought an arrest or conviction of a Democratic California state senator.

    U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California joined a growing list of officials Thursday in distancing themselves by demanding Yee's resignation.

    Yee announced Thursday he is dropping out of the secretary of state race. His lawyer says the senator plans to plead not guilty to charges of accepting more than $42,000 to influence legislation and introduce an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker.

    Republicans, who have been struggling to regain their political footing, have sought to capitalize on the wave of criminal charges as a way to undo Democrats' dominance in the Legislature.
     

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