California GOP senators introduce ethics bill after lawmaker arrests

Robert Huff (R-Diamond Bar), left, and Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) walk to a recent ethics training session. The two are among 11 Republican senators who proposed new ethics rules Wednesday.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

With Democratic senators watering down a key ethics bill, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday proposed their own package of changes in response to criminal charges filed against three California senators.

The Republican measure would double the sentence for criminal bribery by a legislator, bar legislators from using campaign funds to pay family members for work on elections, require contributions to be disclosed within 72 hours and prohibit the use of campaign funds to pay for criminal defense expenses.

That latter provision was stripped by Democratic leaders out of a bill by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-Mateo) that is pending on the Senate floor.

The Democrats also removed from the Hill bill provisions that would have lowered the threshold for reporting charitable gifts solicited by elected officials from $5,000 to $2,000 and that would have barred accepting gifts of travel worth more than $8,000. Hill’s office described the remaining legislation as a “gutted bill.”


“The travel limit in the bill was an arbitrary amount and not as important as the transparency provision,” Hill said. “As to why other provisions were taken out, I don’t know.”

Senate Republican leader Robert Huff of Diamond Bar said the GOP bill better addresses issues raised by the federal indictments of Democratic Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello, who both were charged with accepting payments for official favors.

“These reforms get closer to the heart of the political corruption charges the FBI alleges were committed by Sens. Calderon and Yee,” Huff said. “Californians deserve an honest government and shouldn’t have to question the ethics or integrity of their elected leaders.”

Sen. Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) called some of the Democratic proposals “window dressing.”

It is unlikely all of the proposals will make it through the Democrat-controlled Legislature. When asked if the bill was being introduced to provide Republicans with cover for eventually voting against Democrats’ ethics bills, Huff said: “We do nothing for cover, sir. We do things for good policy.”

A third Democratic senator, Roderick D. Wright of Inglewood, was found guilty of voter fraud in January.