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The California Legislature conducted its first "per diem session" of the year Friday -- brief meetings of both legislative houses that allowed their members to take off a three-day holiday weekend without losing their $141.86 per day, tax-free expense payments.

Had the Legislature not met Friday -- the Senate for less than 30 minutes, the Assembly for slightly over an hour -- and observed Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, members would have lost the payments for four days, totaling nearly $70,000.

The per diem payments average more than $25,000 per year per legislator on top of their salaries, although a few members don't take the money. Per diem is supposed to compensate legislators for housing and meals in Sacramento. The state constitution says that the payments continue seven days a week, as long as the Legislature is not out of session for more than three consecutive days.

The Legislature's long-standing practice is to meet from Monday to Thursday - the latter having been dubbed "getaway day" -- unless there's a crunch of business, but when there's a Monday holiday such as MLK Jr. Day, it routinely has brief sessions on Fridays to avoid running afoul of the three-day rule.

Both houses devoted much of their brief meetings to speeches commemorating King, the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.

Although technically it's a three-day holiday, it's more than four days for the Legislature, since it convened at 9 a.m. Friday and won't reconvene in the Capitol until midday Tuesday.



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