SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Democratically controlled California Senate will vote on whether to suspend three Democrats who face criminal charges, after the latest lawmaker to be hauled into court refused to step down, its leader said Friday.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters that he planned to act after Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was indicted this week on federal charges that included accepting bribes and coordinating an international gun-running operation.
Senate spokesman Rhys Williams said Steinberg also will move to suspend Democratic senators Ron Calderon and Rod Wright, both from the Los Angeles area. Calderon also faces federal corruption charges, while Wright was convicted of voter fraud and perjury.
All three will retain their annual base pay of $95,291 even if suspended, but Steinberg also plans to seek a constitutional amendment on Friday that will deny pay to suspended lawmakers. The state Constitution currently says lawmakers can lose their pay only if they are expelled or resign.
Steinberg said Yee has refused to resign or take a leave in advance of Friday's Senate session, as he had requested. Even if Yee had sought to take a voluntary leave, "It doesn't matter," Steinberg said. The Senate plans to suspend Yee, he said, and can do so on a majority vote.
Calderon and Wright previously took leaves of absence, which also let them keep their pay.
The suspensions would officially drop Senate Democrats below the rare two-thirds majority they won in the last election, a supermajority that allowed them to act in all matters without needing support from Republicans in the 40-member chamber.
Republican lawmakers had repeatedly moved to suspend Wright and Calderon, arguing that the Senate should take an official position sanctioning the lawmakers. GOP lawmakers feared they could rescind their leaves and return to the Senate at any time.
The latest move came days after federal authorities arrested Yee as part of a broader corruption probe centered on San Francisco's Chinatown district.
None of the three senators were present as senators caucused to discuss their fate. Requests for comment were not immediately returned by spokesmen for all three senators. Yee's attorney, Paul De Meester, said he plans to hold a news conference in San Francisco after the Senate acts.
Steinberg was under intense pressure to take tougher action now that three members of his own party are facing criminal charges. Yee had been under pressure to resign, with both the state's Democratic U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, weighing in.
Feinstein, in a statement Thursday, called the allegations against Yee "shocking."
"It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down," she said.
"We need to act decisively in order to begin restoring the public's trust," Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in a statement calling for Yee's suspension. He said the three arrests are "tarnishing the California State Senate."
Yee, who had authored several gun control bills, was arrested and released on bond Wednesday following a series of raids in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. According to an affidavit, Yee is accused of accepting more than $42,000 to provide introductions, influence legislation and for introducing an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker.
Investigators said Yee discussed helping the agent get weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines to help pay off campaign debts.
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called Wednesday for Yee to resign and warned the San Francisco Democrat that he would be suspended otherwise.
Yee is the third Democrat in the state Senate in three months to face criminal misconduct. One senator was convicted of voter fraud and perjury, and a second faces federal charges for allegedly accepting bribes for friends and family in exchange for legislation.