Bill to post California legislators’ salaries online stalls

As legislators rush to bring more transparency to the salaries of city officials — like the eye-popping compensation enjoyed until recently by administrators in Bell — they’re balking at passing a law that would make it easier for the public to find out their own pay.

A measure that would legally compel lawmakers to post their salaries, and the salaries they pay staff, on the Internet has stalled in the state Senate. Leaders of the upper house said Thursday that they may instead address the issue through an internal rule, which can be changed much more easily, and with much less public fanfare, than a state law.

As the struggle over legislative pay disclosure played out in the background, lawmakers approved several other proposed laws, including a stiff new rule meant to protect hospital patients from radiation overdoses and a ban on alcohol sales from self-service lines in grocery stores. A controversial bill to require sterilization of family pets, however, failed to get the votes it needed and appears to be on life support.

The pay-disclosure bill causing trouble is by Assemblywoman Alyson Huber (D-El Dorado Hills). She said Thursday that Senate officials told her the measure, which the Assembly has yet to address, was going to be killed. She said senators believe they’ll be doing enough for public disclosure if they pass a bill requiring city and county officials to post their salaries on the Internet.

Huber sees it differently. “We shouldn’t be asking local government to do something we are not willing to do,” she said.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D- Sacramento) said he and Republican colleagues are discussing possible adoption of a “binding” rule to disclose Senate salaries. He did not see a double standard.

“We are in complete agreement from a policy standpoint,” Steinberg said about the need to disclose legislative salaries. “The question is whether we do it by Senate rule or by legislation.”

Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), who is scheduled to become the Senate Republican leader next week, said the effect would be the same whether the disclosure was required by rule or statute — the public would get the information.

Responded Huber: “It’s a lot easier to not follow a house rule or change a house rule. If it’s in statute for local government, it should be in statute for everybody.”

Lawmakers found it easier to agree on a proposed law to force hospitals to disclose radiation overdoses during CT scans. The measure, SB 1237 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D- Pacoima), would require health facilities to report such accidents to the state Department of Public Health and to record the dose from all CT scans in the patient’s medical record.

Although the dose of a CT scan appears on the operator’s computer screen, under current law there is no requirement for the data to be recorded where the patient can see it, making it difficult to find out if they’ve been exposed to excessive radiation.

More than 260 accidental overdoses were recently discovered at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “There were no records kept in any tangible form,” said Chris Dolan, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, which sponsored the bill.

The measure, which passed the Assembly 58 to 2, faces one more vote on amendments in the Senate before it would head to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not taken a position on it.

Under another bill approved Thursday, shoppers would not be able to buy alcohol in self-serve check-out lanes at grocery stores.

Opponents argue that the bill, AB 1060 by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D- South Gate), is being pushed by unionized grocery store employees in a bid to preserve check-out clerk jobs. “I’m not mandating that they get rid of these machines,” De La Torre said. “All I’m saying is, if you’re going to buy alcohol, walk 10 more feet and have a person help you.”

The bill is on its way to the governor, who has not taken a position on the measure.

The seemingly perennial debate over whether the state should require pets to be spayed and neutered hit the Assembly floor Wednesday, where supporters of SB 250 by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) failed three times to get the necessary votes.

The state spends $20 million a year euthanizing unwanted cats and dogs, said Assemblyman Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), urging colleagues to focus on the bottom line and vote for the bill.

It didn’t work. The measure, which never came close to the 41 votes needed to pass, now sits in legislative limbo. To bring it back, supporters would have to talk resistant colleagues into a vote that would put their own four-legged friends under the knife. “I think they lose sight of the fact that pets are family too,” said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda).