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State Senate thaws its hiring freeze

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At the height of last summer’s budget crisis, the state Senate imposed a strict hiring freeze for its staff. But less than six months later the Legislature’s upper house has quietly starting hiring again.

Lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee voted to undo the freeze in a closed-to-the-public executive session last month. The move allowed the Senate to fill slots of any staff vacancies that have opened since the hiring ban was imposed July 1, 2009.

“If we are to perform our constitutional function adequately we need to be able to hire the people,” said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

With a grim budget outlook, there has been a exodus of top staff from the Senate in the last six months, including the chief advisors to committees on energy, education and pensions. Rank-and-file members have lost aides and advisors as well. It is not clear how many posts have been filled since the freeze was lifted.

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The freeze was first rolled out last summer as both a money- and face-saving maneuver, allowing the Senate to take a share-the-pain stance amid deep cuts to schools, social and healthcare programs. The Senate announced once-a-month furloughs for workers earning more than $50,000 a year at the same time, part of a package to trim 10% from the house’s budget.

But in the days before the July 1 freeze deadline, more than a dozen new staff members were added to the payroll as offices rushed fill all available slots, as June was the Senate’s busiest hiring month of 2009, payroll records show.

Reversing the freeze has drawn bipartisan, if muted, support. “As long as we’re saving the taxpayers the overall budget of the Senate…,” said Senate GOP leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) “I think it makes sense to be able to move forward with some new hiring.”

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento


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