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The suspension of three state senators and a six-figure penalty against a prominent lobbyist have made political ethics a dominant issue at the California Capitol this year, prompting special ethics training in the state Senate.

The next state budget, though, could allow some local governments to opt out of ethics training for their officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget calls for suspending dozens of mandates on local government – including for the first time a mandate that requires ethics training for officials in some general law cities and counties and certain special districts.

Without the mandate suspension, the state would be on the hook to reimburse eligible local governments for travel, meals and other ethics training expenses, at an estimated $35,000 cost.

The Legislative Analyst's Office has said the mandate is inconsistent, because it only applies to local governments that are required to compensate their elected officials, and not others.

The two houses have split on the issue. The Assembly rejected the governor's proposal, noting in a subcommittee report that the mandate's cost "is minimal and the risk may be significant that local governments could decrease transparency because of the statute being deleted."

The Senate, though, accepted the governor's proposal. Now it's up to the Legislature's budget conference committee to reconcile the different versions. The conference committee has yet to act on the local ethics training mandate.

Last year, Brown called for suspending the mandate on local governments to comply with parts of the California Public Records Act. The Senate accepted it and the Assembly rejected it.

The suspension later became part of the budget package that passed the Legislature – but not before triggering an outcry from open-records advocates who feared that some local agencies would use the suspension as an excuse to cut off public access to government records. Lawmakers later rescinded the mandate suspension and put the issue before voters.

Proposition 42, which requires local governments to comply with the open-records law without state reimbursement, passed with 62 percent of the vote.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff discuss ethics training for members of the Legislature on April 23, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.



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