One year after the FBI raided the Capitol in an investigation of political corruption, two legislative committees unanimously approved wide-ranging measures Wednesday to clean up the Legislature's tarnished image and curb its members' most flagrant ethical abuses.
The Assembly Select Committee on Ethics, concluding eight months of meetings, formally adopted a package that would limit the gifts and speaking fees that legislators can receive and impose tougher enforcement of ethics violations.
Hours later, the Senate Rules Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to ban honorariums for legislators while establishing a salary commission to decide on the level of compensation that all state elected officials should receive.
Backers of the legislation said they hope to reconcile differences between the two measures and rush them through the Legislature by Sept. 15, when both houses adjourn for the year.
But it remains to be seen whether rank-and-file legislators are willing to vote for legislation that would restrict their own lucrative speaking fees, free travel to foreign countries and a wide array of gifts.
"If this package passes, there will be nothing like it in the country," said Common Cause lobbyist Walter Zelman after the Assembly committee approved its plan. "There is more they could do, but from a realistic point of view, you have to be very impressed with how far they've moved."
While the Assembly plan is more restrictive and detailed than the Senate measure, both proposals are designed to reduce the amount of money and gifts legislators receive from individuals and businesses that have an interest in bills before the Legislature.
In large part, the Legislature's current interest in ethics legislation was sparked by the FBI's political corruption investigation, which so far has led to the indictment of Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) and a former top aide, Amiel Jaramillo, on 12 felony counts of racketeering, extortion and money laundering.
The FBI's investigation, which began as an undercover operation in 1985, became public in dramatic fashion a year ago today when federal agents made a late-night raid of legislators' Capitol offices.
Since then, the investigation has widened as federal authorities look for links between lawmakers' votes on specific bills and payments they may have received from individuals affected by the legislation.
At least five elected officials continue to be subjects of the investigation: Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana) and state Board of Equalization member Paul Carpenter, a former Democratic state senator from Cypress.
"There's a healthy movement within the Legislature to take a long hard look at the way we and other state elected officials do public business," said Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) as he urged the Senate Rules Committee to adopt stricter ethical standards.
For the first time, the Assembly proposal would hold to legislators to the same conflict-of-interest laws that apply to local government officials throughout the state. However, the Assembly panel rejected a proposal to turn over enforcement to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which polices conflict of interest violations among local officials.
Under the plan, the attorney general or local district attorneys would be given authority to enforce laws prohibiting legislators from voting on matters that would affect their own personal finances. In certain cases, prosecution could be turned over to an independent counsel. In addition, the plan calls for the creation of an Assembly Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to oversee legislators' behavior.
The Assembly package, which was drafted in an unusual series of public meetings, also calls for an immediate limit of $1,000 on individual honorariums, with each legislator's total annual honorariums not to exceed $10,200.
In addition, legislators would not be able to accept gifts of more than $100 from a single source per year, with exceptions for such items as presents from family members, under the Assembly plan.
Gifts of foreign travel would be allowed only if they come from a foreign government or a bona fide educational institution, or if they receive special approval in advance from the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.
"We have put together the first comprehensive ethics conduct program," said Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Ethics, after the panel voted 8 to 0 to approve the package.
Like the Senate proposal, the Assembly plan calls for a constitutional amendment to be placed before the voters next year that would create a commission to decide what compensation legislators should receive. Many lawmakers support the commission plan because they believe that they are underpaid and that an independent commission would give them a hefty raise.
Under both the Assembly and Senate proposals, voter approval of the salary commission would mean a ban on all honorariums for legislators.
Both proposals also would prohibit former legislators from lobbying the Legislature for 12 months after leaving office, and prohibit former top Administration officials from lobbying the executive branch for the same period.
Unlike the Assembly plan, however, most of the Senate proposal is contingent on approval by the voters. A proposed $250 annual restriction on gifts, the ban on honorariums and the prohibition on lobbying by former officials would not take effect unless voters agree to create the salary commission.
The Senate proposal, sponsored by Roberti and Senate Republican Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, was approved by the Rules Committee on a 5-0 vote.