Yes on 50

Proposition 50 changes the state Constitution to explicitly allow each house of the Legislature to suspend a member (without pay) by a two-thirds vote of the house in question. Suspendded members cannot perform the duties of a Legislator (such as voting on bills) and cannot exercise the rights of a Legislator.

Under the terms of Proposition 50, in order to suspend a member, the house must pass a resolution doing so via a two-thirds majority vote. The suspension can be time-delimited, OR, alternatively, it can be indefinite, in which case it can be ended by another two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature.

Note that under the literal language of the text, the Legislature *cannot* end a time-delimited suspension early. It can provide a specified time limit, OR it can vote to reinstate, but the text does not allow a reinstatement vote if there is an explicit time limit.


Currently, the state constitution explicitly allows *expulsion*. However, the *rules of each house of the legislature* allow suspension *by a majority vote*. Suspended members are not allowed to vote or take legislative actions, but they DO draw full pay.

So one part of the net effect of this ballot measure is to *make it harder for the Legislature to suspend members*, because it increases the (statutory) threshold of 50%+1 to a (constitutional) threshold of 2/3.

The other part of the net effect of this ballot measure is to deny suspended members their paycheck, thereby saving the state a small amount of money and removing the public relations problem of a Legislator getting paid while not being allowed to work.


This proposition is on the ballot because it amends the constitutional rules governing Legislative procedure and, therefore, can only be amended by ballot measure.

The Legislature voted to put this measure on the ballot because, in 2014, three Senators were suspended after they were accused of felonies. The fact that this happened at all was politically embarassing, and the fact that the Legislators continued to get paid was even worse; and at the same time, Legislators were understandably unnerved by the discovery that a simple majority of each house could deny any legislator the ability to do their job – this hasn’t been abused in the past, but past results are not guarantees of future performance.


As far as I can tell, there are two major issues that should influence how one votes on this measure.

[1] Should the legislature have the power to suspend, rather than expel, its members? What’s the argument for suspending rather than expelling?

I agree with the ballot pamphlet argument against that giving the legislature the power to *suspend* rather than *expel* gives the legislature the power to deny a district effective representation (because expulsion would require a new election but suspension would not). But the argument on the other side is that legislators are just as deserving of the rights of due process as anyone else, and so while it might make sense to *suspend* someone who is accused and under suspicion of grave crimes, it would be unfair to *expel* them prior to conviction.

For this, I think, it really depends on how you weigh the balance between the interests of the *people* in effective representation and the due process interest of the legislator. I’m inclined to value the people’s interest more highly, and that makes me think suspension is not a good procedure and that indicted legislators should simply be expelled; and at the same time, I recognize that this increases the risk of politically motivated spurious indictments, which could be used to deny the people effective representation almost as effectively as spurious suspensions.

[2] Is it a reasonable thing to increase the threshold for suspension from simple majority to two-thirds?

The legislature is *already* suspending memberrs, and that’s not going to stop absent a constitutional amendment banning the practice. If, like me and the arguments of the ballot handbook’s argument against, you think this is dangerous because of its potential for abuse, then you should be *in favor* of increasing the threshold – it makes suspending legislators *harder*. It’s way more difficult to abuse a power that requires a 2/3 majority threshold to invoke than it is to abuse a power that requires a simple majority to invoke.

If, on the other hand, you think the legislature is rife with corruption and that the legislature doesn’t do enough to punish its members already, then raising the threshold ought to strike you as a bad thing; it makes it harder for the Legislature to suspend members.

[3] Many people will focus on the issue of legislators getting paid while they are suspended. I agree that it’s optically bad for a legislator who can’t work to get paid; but there are other situations where osmething similar happens and, fundamentally, it’s a minor issue for the state budget. I basically think this is a red herring being used to gin up emotional support for the measure by getting people to focus on their emotions a round people getting paid for not working rather than focusing on the procedural and structural issues.

I *do* think there’s a valid *due process* question — essentially, I’m not convinced it’s fair to a Legislator to suspend their pay because they’ve been a ccused, but n ot convicted, of a grave crime. That’s not enough to get me to vote against, but it’s enough to give me pause.


I will be voting *yes* on Proposition 50, because it makes it more difficult for the Legislature to suspend members and provides a constitutional procedure to replace the ad-hoc proceddure in the legislative rules.


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