De León’s bad idea

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Hen he took over

Wthe lead­er­ship of the state Se­nate last year, Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les) faced the her­culean task of restor­ing the public’s faith in that scan­dalplagued body and its way­ward mem­bers. The pre­ced­ing months had been char­ac­ter­ized by a se­ries of em­bar­rass­ing episodes — and worse — in­clud­ing but not limited to cor­rup­tion charges, a DUI ar­rest, a fraud con­vic­tion, al­le­ga­tions of nepo­tism and drug use.

Some­thing had to be done. But the Se­nate pres­i­dent pro tem made a se­ri­ous mis­judg­ment by es­tab­lish­ing an overnight “se­cu­rity ser­vice” this ses­sion that the Sacra­mento Bee re­ported was re­ally cre­ated to drive drunk sen­a­tors home from bars, par­ties and fundrais­ers.

Such a ser­vice, if it in fact ex­ists, makes a cer­tain amount of sense, be­cause sen­a­tors have been caught driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence with some reg­u­lar­ity over the years. Most re­cently, Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) was ar­rested in Au­gust af­ter be­ing stopped about 2:45 a.m. for driv­ing the wrong way on a oneway street in down­town Sacra­mento. He later pleaded no con­test to a “wet reck­less” charge in­volv­ing al­co­hol.

But De León’s of­fice says — em­phat­i­cally — that shut­tling ine­bri­ated sen­a­tors was not the rea­son for hir­ing the two new grave­yard se­cu­rity staffers, though they would of course drive home such a mem­ber if re­quested. The main re­spon­si­bil­ity of the mid­night to 6 a.m. ser­vice is to es­cort Se­nate em­ploy­ees to their cars if they work late. Se­nate staff of­ten park in re­mote lots, and down­town Sacra­mento can be scary at night. The overnight shift also an­swers ex­tra-early and su­per-late air­port pickup or drop-off calls from sen­a­tors.

Ei­ther way, we don’t like it. If this is re­ally a tax­payer-funded taxi ser­vice for sen­a­tors who have con­sumed too much al­co­hol, that’s an out­rage and an em­bar­rass­ment. Why can’t they call Uber or Lyft like any­one else, as­sum­ing they are still com­pe­tent to use their cell­phones? And if that’s not the pur­pose — if it’s a pub­licly funded fly-away shut­tle for Se­nate mem­bers head­ing to the air­port — well, why is that nec­es­sary ei­ther? Don’t the sen­a­tors’ ex­ist­ing $163 per diems pay for the costs as­so­ci­ated with com­ing to Sacra­mento dur­ing ses­sion?

De León should ask him­self whether the benefits of this late-night se­cu­rity ser­vice are worth the ad­di­tional set­back to the rep­u­ta­tion of the up­per house. Prob­a­bly not, es­pe­cially be­cause the ser­vice has been un­der­uti­lized, with only about 20 calls in four months.

It’s not so much an is­sue of cost; the two new se­cu­rity staffers are work­ing un­der con­tract with no benefits and only dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, and their pay is eas­ily cov­ered by the more than 7% in re­duc­tions De León has made else­where in the Se­nate’s in­ter­nal bud­get. It’s an is­sue of per­cep­tion. Af­ter Sen. Le­land Yee was in­dicted on cor­rup­tion and gun­run­ning charges, and Sen. Ron Calderon was charged with ac­cept­ing bribes, and Sen. Rod­er­ick Wright was con­victed for ly­ing about living in his dis­trict, it’s time to take steps that make the Se­nate look bet­ter, not worse.

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