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Use of Assembly badges arrested

Times Staff Writer

In response to a Compton lawmaker who gave official-looking badges to supporters, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez on Friday banned the distribution of Assembly badges to the public.

“These badges should be used by Assembly members for security and identification purposes. Period,” said Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat, in a written statement. “This change of policy will prevent any possible misuse in the future.”

Nunez imposed the new policy after a Compton man flashed at Redondo Beach police an “Assembly commissioner” badge given to him by the office of Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton). Pirikana Likivu Johnson was charged last month with impersonating a state official, driving under the influence and driving without a license.

Nunez called for an internal investigation after The Times reported in December that Dymally’s office ordered badges for at least 30 people, some of them campaign contributors. Four people told The Times they received a badge after making what they thought were campaign contributions of several hundred dollars each, but their names do not appear as contributors on Dymally’s campaign finance reports.

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Dymally, who served in Congress and leads the Legislative Black Caucus, blamed racism for the internal inquiry.

In response to a question from a television reporter last month, Dymally called Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), the Rules Committee chairman who was asked by Nunez to lead the investigation, “the most racist legislator I have encountered in over 40 years.” Within a week, Dymally expressed “deep regret” for the statement.

In a letter to Nunez released Friday, De La Torre suggested the Assembly either ban distribution of badges or encase badges in acrylic for use as paperweights.

Assembly members are allowed to order wallet badges identifying them as lawmakers through the Assembly sergeant at arms’ office. The badges must be purchased with personal money.

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De La Torre said he found that the vendor who sells the badges was working under the misconception that a lawmaker could order badges with the Assembly seal that had not been approved by Assembly sergeants.

“The vendor has confirmed that badges were sold to members of the public at the request of a member or staff person, but without approval by the sergeant at arms’ office,” De La Torre wrote.

De La Torre said that, in March, Assembly Chief Sergeant Ron Pane told the vendor to stop providing Assembly badges without his explicit approval.

In the state Senate, every lawmaker is issued a $110 wallet and badge paid for with taxpayer funds. Senators are told that the badges carry no peace officer authority.

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The Senate imposed its policy years ago, after several associates of former Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana), who headed the Senate Insurance Committee, flashed “Senate Insurance Commissioner” badges at police.

Robbins had ordered the badges himself from the Senate’s vendor. Ensnared in a Capitol corruption scandal, Robbins was sentenced in 1991 to two years in federal prison for racketeering and tax evasion.

Nunez said he would also accept De La Torre’s suggestion that the Assembly audit the badge vendor each year to be certain badges were issued only to lawmakers.

nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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