The California Legislature conducted its second "per diem session" of the year Friday, with both legislative houses meeting briefly, thereby allowing their members to leave town for a three-day holiday weekend without losing their $141.86 per day, tax-free expense payments.
Had the Legislature not met Friday and observed Monday's Presidents' Day holiday, lawmakers would have lost the payments for four days, totaling nearly $70,000.
The Senate met for about 20 minutes, doing little more than ceremonial events. The Assembly devoted its session, about 45 minutes, mostly to a resolution marking the 70th anniversary of the 1942 presidential order, issued in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, that citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry, many of them in California, be rounded up and placed in internment camps.
The per diem payments, averaging more than $25,000 per year per legislator on top of their salaries, are 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, it routinely has brief sessions on Fridays to avoid violating the three-day rule.
In effect, it's a four-day weekend because members are off duty from Friday morning until Tuesday. A few members, however, don't accept the per diem payments.