Proposition 50(1) – Suspension of Legislators. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.(2)

CAIR-CA Recommendation: YES

Summary

Amends the California Constitution to give the Legislature authority to suspend Members of the Assembly or Senate, with or without pay, by two-thirds vote of the respective body. Suspended Members would be prohibited from exercising rights, privileges, duties, or powers of the office, or using any legislative resources. Suspension may end by its own terms, or upon two-thirds vote of the respective body. Currently, the California Legislature does not have the power to stop a suspended legislator’s salary and benefits during the suspension.

What Your Vote Means

A YES vote on this measure will amend the California Constitution to give the Legislature authority to suspend members of the Assembly or Senate with or without pay by two-thirds vote of the respective body.

A NO vote on this measure will prevent an amendment to the California Constitution, and the Legislature will continue to have the power to suspend its respective Members accused of wrongdoing by a simple majority vote.

Arguments

SUPPORTERS say the measure is a way for lawmakers to hold their colleagues accountable for breaching public trust. This issue came to light in 2014 when three state Senators were charged with criminal offenses and as a result were suspended by a resolution of the Senate. However, the suspended senators continued to receive their salaries (more than $95,000 per year) because Senate did not have clear authority to stop their pay. Lawmakers passed the constitutional amendment with strong bipartisan support and have now placed it before voters. The amendment would require the Senate to pass a resolution declaring why the member is being suspended, and requires a higher threshold to suspend (two-third votes). The power to discipline and expel members is inherent to a legislative body and is common practice in most states.

Prop. 50 would give the California Legislature power to discipline fellow Members, taking into consideration all surrounding circumstances, as it may not always be appropriate to expel a Member against whom allegations have been raised.

OPPONENTS say Prop. 50 would provide Legislature with a reason not to “expel” Members who have broken the public trust. Giving the California Legislature the power to “suspend” via Prop. 50 is not necessary because the Legislature already has the power to “expel” Members. When a legislator is “suspended,” that legislator still occupies the office, albeit without the power to exercise the powers of the office. This effectively deprives tax-paying constituents of their representation without due process. On the other hand, when a member is “expelled” her/his term in office ends.

This power can also be abused by majority to silence vocal minority opposition in the Legislature by suspending that member, and thereby depriving the Member of their voice and vote in the Legislature.

(1) Adapted from: PDF Version. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2016, from http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov/en/pdf/.
(2) A legislatively referred constitutional amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that appears on a state's ballot as a ballot measure because the state legislature in that state voted to put it before the voters.