SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Democratically controlled California Senate has voted to suspend three Democrats who face charges in separate criminal cases, after the latest lawmaker to be hauled into court refused to step down.
Friday's 28-1 vote in the 40-member chamber came amid one of the most severe ethical crises in modern times for the Legislature in the nation's most populous state.
The resolution prevents Democratic Sens. Ron Calderon, Leland Yee and Rod Wright from exercising any power of their office until the pending criminal cases against them have been resolved. Even so, they will continue receiving their $95,291 annual salaries.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg acknowledged the public criticism of the chamber but defended his leadership and the integrity of the other 37 lawmakers. Nevertheless, he said he has been shocked by having 7 percent of the chamber face felony charges this year, which will be his last as leader.
"''One is an anomaly, two a coincidence, but three? That's not what this Senate is about," Steinberg said to his fellow lawmakers before the vote.
Yee, who had championed gun control legislation and bills targeting violent video games sold to minors, is the latest of the three senators to be charged. The San Francisco Democrat was indicted this week on federal charges that included accepting bribes and coordinating an international gun-running operation.
Yee's attorney, Paul F. DeMeester, issued a statement immediately after the Senate vote saying suspension was "the right step for now" because it acknowledges the presumption of innocence.
Steinberg noted that the Senate already has "intensive" ethics training for its lawmakers and staff.
"But there are some things, members, that you just can't teach," he said. "I know of no ethics class that teaches about the illegality or the danger of gun-running or other such sordid activities."
He called the allegations against Yee unfathomable.
Steinberg also announced an unprecedented step of cancelling a Senate floor session in April for a mandatory ethics review, with Senate officials going office-by-office to emphasize ethical conduct and ask staffers to come forward if they are aware of any unethical or potentially criminal activity by lawmakers or Senate staffers.