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Part-time Legislature proposed for California

January 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
California is one of a handful of states with a full-time legislature. Now there's a proposal by a Republican lawmaker to switch the state legislature to a part-time body that would meet several months per year. Changes would also include a significant pay-cut.

Californians don't think much of their state lawmakers. A Field Poll last month showed the Legislature's approval rating at just 22 percent.

Now a ballot initiative is in the works to make the Legislature part-time by:

  • Cutting pay from $95,000 to just $18,000 a year, plus limited expenses.
  • Shortening sessions to 30 days in January and 60 days in May.
  • Converting state budgets to two years.
  • Banning state government jobs and lobbying while in office and for five years after.

"The bottom line is to return this California State Legislature back to the citizens of the state of California, reduce their time in office and make them live under the rules they create," said state Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield).

A new analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office says California could save $9 million just from cutting salaries and tens of millions of dollars more eliminating staff and travel.

"You will save costs, but at what expense?" said Phillip Ung, policy advocate for California Common Cause.

California Common Cause, a government watchdog, says a part-time Legislature will cause conflicts of interest because lawmakers will need full-time jobs, many in industries that could have business before the state.

"The conflict would be, What is their full-time priority? Is their full-time priority their job? Or is it the part-time job that they're earning $18,000 in?" asked Ung.

Critics also say it's unclear what type of candidate would be attracted to a part-time elected office and how a part-time Legislature would work with a full-time governor and full-time lobbyists.

It may also be difficult to run California just three months out of the year.

"We have a huge budget, with the eighth or ninth largest economy in the world, and to have a part-time Legislature would be really devastating for the kind of work that we have to do in this great state," said state Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia).

The length of legislative sessions around the country varies, but the National Conference of State Legislatures says eight other states, including New York, are essentially full-time.