The state Senate’s governing committee voted Thursday to expel veteran Sen. Frank Hill, a Whittier Republican who has refused to leave office despite his conviction on three felony charges two weeks ago.
The recommendation of the Rules Committee went to the full Senate, where a final vote is expected next week. The action came as public pressure mounted for lawmakers to deal as toughly with Hill as they do when passing bills that crack down on street criminals.
Hill, who would become the first senator expelled since 1905, when four members were thrown out in the wake of a criminal scandal, did not attend the brief hearing and was not available for comment.
A 40-year-old married father of three, Hill was found guilty June 16 by a federal court jury of extortion, money-laundering and conspiracy stemming from his acceptance in 1988 of a $2,500 payment from an undercover FBI agent seeking a legislative favor.
Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael), chairman of the Ethics Committee, urged Rules Committee members to put aside their personal affection for Hill and to vote to oust him as the ethically and morally correct course of action. Greene said he found the task of ousting “an honored and valued” colleague distasteful.
The committee voted 4 to 0 to recommend Hill’s ouster to the full Senate. Committee member Sen. Nicholas C. Petris (D-Oakland) abstained from voting.
Petris, an attorney, said Hill should be allowed to remain in office at least until Sept. 12, when he is scheduled to be sentenced and a federal judge will rule on Hill’s bid to set aside the verdict.
“I personally don’t feel you’ve had your day in court until the conclusion of proceedings,” Petris told the committee.
Greene acknowledged that there were valid legal arguments in Hill’s favor but asserted that from a “moral and ethical” standpoint, “I see no choice but to recommend to you that Sen. Hill be expelled.”
The last time the Rules Committee faced a similar issue was in 1990 when Sen. Joseph B. Montoya was convicted of felony corruption charges. The committee stripped him of his committee chairmanships. He left within a week.
Hill was stripped of his committee assignments shortly after the verdicts were returned. But because he is highly popular, senators were reluctant to force his ouster.
As a result, Hill last week filed a letter of resignation, but he refused to leave until he is sentenced. Meantime, he has continued to collect his $52,500-a-year salary and tax-free expense allowance.
Statewide elected officials convicted of felonies must leave office when they are sentenced. However, no such requirement applies to state legislators. The state Constitution empowers each house to determine the suitability of its members, who can be expelled only by a two-thirds vote.
Senate GOP Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, who had talked with Hill, said Hill told him in advance of the Rules Committee vote that he would resign before Sept. 12 rather than subject his colleagues to an expulsion fight in the full Senate.
“It’s not going to come up on the floor,” Maddy said. “Frank is going to resign.”
Sen. Ruben Ayala (D-Chino), a member of the Rules Committee, said senators were under heavy constituent and newspaper editorial pressure to oust Hill. He said voters have accused senators of “coddling one of your own. As far as they are concerned, Hill is a convicted felon. Why keep him on the payroll?”