State Sen. Richard Roth went on Los Angeles radio Monday morning to float an idea for a Senate ethics ombudsman who could take tips of wrongdoing from staff members, lawmakers, and others.
Roth, D-Riverside, chairs the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee. Monday's proposal, which Roth emphasized is a personal idea that he has yet to run past colleagues, follows last Wednesday's arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, on federal corruption and weapons trafficking charges.
Last month, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on corruption charges. And in January, a Los Angeles County jury convicted state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, of lying about his residence when he ran for the Senate in 2008.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced Friday that the Senate will cancel one day of floor session and committee hearings and instead have an intensive, mandatory office-by-office review of Senate ethics policies.
Roth said his idea would build on that, and reflects concerns that some people with knowledge of wrongdoing may be intimidated by the existing process of voicing concerns. Under Senate rules, people can make allegations of suspected violations of Senate standards of conduct. But the complaints must be in writing and be signed under penalty of perjury.
"It's not as open a process, as free a process, as I would like to see," Roth said. "We need to create a different system, where staff or other individuals, and legislators, are free to contact someone like an ombudsman."
Roth, elected in 2012, said his office is just starting to survey ethics procedures in other states. His goal, he said, is to make sure "we have the best ethics program in the nation, period."
PHOTO: State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, during session in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua