SACRAMENTO -- After a fiery and passionate debate, the state Senate this morning voted 28-1 to suspend all three lawmakers caught up in high-profile corruption cases.
Current law mandates that those disgraced elected officials -- Sens. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, Ronald Calderon, D-Montebello, and Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood -- receive their $90,526 annual salary while suspended. But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, also introduced a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature power to suspend its members and not have to pay their salaries.
"We unequivocally distance ourselves from the unfathomable allegations contained in the Yee indictment as well as the other cases," Steinberg said, speaking about the suspension resolution. "Only this body may allow them back, and only if they are exonerated."
Steinberg said he was shocked to see so many of his colleagues face felony charges this year, which will be has last in the legislature because of term limits.
"One is an anomaly, two a coincidence, but three?" Steinberg said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Joel Anderson, a Republican senator from San Diego, was the only lawmaker who voted no. He said he was upset that Steinberg didn't suspend Wright and Calderson a few weeks ago as Republicans had asked and called Steinberg's efforts today "disingenuous."
Sens. Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, urged Steinberg to introduce a separate measure to suspend Wright, but he later voted in favor of the triple suspension measure.
The developments this morning come two days after Yee was indicted on charges stemming from a 4-year-long FBI sting operation that range from wire fraud to illegal gun running.
After this morning's vote, Paul DeMeester, Yee's lawyer, issued a statement saying: "Suspension is the right step for now, and is appropriate in a system that presumes the innocence of the accused."
Lawmakers who are suspended by their colleagues cannot participate in any votes or use their offices. They cannot even set foot on the floor of the Assembly or Senate floors, though they are allowed to enter the Capitol, which is a public building.
When lawmakers take voluntary leaves of absence, they can decide to end that leave and return to their duties in Sacramento at any time. Lawmakers who are suspended can only return when the body that voted to remove them votes to do so.
In February, Sen. Calderon surrendered to authorities after being indicted on bribery charges. A month before, Wright was convicted of voter fraud and perjury stemming from a 2010 indictment.
Today and in statements earlier this week, Steinberg addressed public criticism of the chamber, but stressed that the actions of these three disgraced lawmakers don't reflect the good work done by the rest of the body.
Steinberg also announced plans to cancel a Senate floor session in April so that lawmakers and their staffs can participate in mandatory ethics training and urged staff members with concerns about their bosses' behavior to come forward and report it.
Speaking with reporters shortly after the vote, Steinberg said the Senate already has "intensive" ethics training for lawmakers and staff members, but that there are some common-sense things you just can't teach.
"I know of no ethics class that teaches about the illegality or the danger of gun-running or other such sordid activities," he said.