The California state Senate today took the unprecedented step of suspending three of its members who have been accused of crimes including corruption, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons -- a move that takes away their power but maintains their pay.
With a vote of 28-1, senators ousted colleagues Democrats Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills with a resolution that says they can't resume office "until all criminal proceedings currently pending against them have been dismissed."
Expelling them would be premature, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said, because Yee and Calderon have not been convicted of their corruption charges and Wright is waiting to see if the judge in his perjury trial upholds the jury's guilty verdict.
As the debate began, Steinberg said he understands the public concern.
"One is an anomaly. Two is a coincidence. Three?" he said. "I am calling on our entire body to take a deeper look at our culture."
He said he would cancel session on April 7 and conduct an "office-by-office ethics review."
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said Steinberg's move does not go far enough. He cast the lone vote against the suspensions.
"Which is it today, more smoke a mirrors, more paid holidays for bad behavior?" he asked. "There should be only one measure on this floor...and that's to expel these members."
Steinberg plans to introduce a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to suspend members without pay. That, however, would have to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and then by voters before it could take effect.
Calderon and Wright have been on paid leaves of absence for roughly a month, which did not require a vote by the Senate. The latest case involving Yee has kicked up the pressure on Democrats to take a more formal action.
Yee was charged in federal court Wednesday with corruption and conspiracy to illegally import guns. A 137-page FBI affidavit alleges that Yee took numerous official actions as a legislator in exchange for contributions to his current campaign for secretary of state. The contributions, it turned out, were from undercover agents. The FBI affidavit also says Yee offered to help an undercover agent pull off an illegal international arms deal.
Yee was arrested Wednesday as part of a massive FBI sweep that involved more than two-dozen people accused of running guns, drugs, stolen liquor and cigarettes — and arranging murder for hire.
It was the latest turn in what's already been a tumultuous year for Democrats in the California Capitol. Last month, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Calderon on 24 counts of corruption. And in January, a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about whether he lived in the district he represents.
PHOTO: Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk inside the Senate chambers in January 2014. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.
Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:55 p.m. to include mention of Anderson's vote.