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A constitutional amendment to switch California's Legislature to a part-time body meeting about three months per year was proposed today by a Republican lawmaker and the head of a political watchdog group.

The measure by Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, and Ted Costa of People's Advocate, also would cut legislators' salaries from $7,940 per month to $1,500 per month -- or $18,000 annually.

The measure was filed today with the state Attorney General's Office, a first step toward launching a campaign to gather the 807,615 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot, Costa said.

Separately, two Republican Assembly members have vowed to make a legislative push next year for lawmakers to serve part time.

California has had a full-time Legislature for more than four decades, stemming from passage of a 1966 constitutional amendment by state voters.

"We've tried it -- and it's failed miserably," said Costa, who helped launch the successful recall against then-Gov. Gray Davis nearly a decade ago.

"It only took me about 30 days of being in that (Capitol) to realize that we fail our state miserably," Grove added. "I want to mitigate our damage to Californians."

Pros and cons of a part-time Legislature have been debated for years by politicians and Capitol analysts. Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, floated the idea after taking office in 2003.

Supporters of the current system have said that weakening the Legislature by making it part-time would increase lawmakers' reliance on lobbyists and expand the power of state government's other two branches -- the governor's office and courts.

Proponents of a full-time Legislature also say that it allows better and more consistent oversight of education, law enforcement, fire services, health care and other vital public services.

John Vigna, spokesman for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, said a part-time Legislature makes little sense in a state with one of the world's largest economies. He also took a jab at Grove's job performance.

"This is an irresponsible proposal coming from someone who hasn't put forward any real solutions to our long-term challenges," Vigna said.

Costa said voters are fed up. Californians already disapprove of the Legislature's performance, and they'll be particularly angry if a proposed multibillion-dollar tax increase appears on the same ballot as the part-time Legislature plan, he said.

He and Grove declined to identify financial backers of his campaign, but he predicted there will be enough cash for signature-gathering to qualify the constitutional amendment for the ballot.

"It's tight, but we've got some money," he said.

The constitutional amendment would:

• Have lawmakers meet for 30 days in January each year, recess, then reconvene in May for 60 days.

• Allow the governor to call special sessions to address extraordinary issues, but limit them to 15 days.

• Not allow legislators to accept state employment or appointment to a state government position for five years after they leave the Capitol.

• Require the Legislature to focus on adoption of a two-year budget in each odd-numbered year. If lawmakers failed to pass a balanced budget by June 15 of such years, they would forfeit their salary and per diem for each day they are late.

The constitutional amendment declares that a part-time Legislature is necessary partly because current lawmakers are too beholden to special interests and unable to pass a balanced budget on time.

"A part-time Legislature will reduce the number of unnecessary and self-serving bills and will result in a more responsible and accountable government," the measure says in its findings and declarations.

Separately, Republican Assemblymen Martin Garrick of Solana Beach and Dan Logue of Penn Valley have said they will introduce legislation next year that would ask voters to switch to a part-time Legislature.

Passage of such measures require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses, dominated by Democrats.

Mike Zimmerman, Garrick's spokesman, said that bills to alter the Legislature's full-time status have failed to get a committee hearing in recent years.

"Obviously we'd like for it to finally be heard and spark the discussion because I think it's a valid discussion to have," Zimmerman said.

The Bee's Torey Van Oot contributed to this post.


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