Capitol Alert

California Senate overnight drivers still on payroll

Senate members were given small plastic cards with the phone numbers for “Sacramento 24 hr transportation” and Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Debbie Manning, whose number has been obscured by The Bee.
Senate members were given small plastic cards with the phone numbers for “Sacramento 24 hr transportation” and Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Debbie Manning, whose number has been obscured by The Bee.

Three months after California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León ended an overnight ride service for senators, the two part-time drivers are still on the payroll.

Senate officials said the employees were reassigned to other duties during their graveyard shift, including providing transportation to remote parking lots for Capitol staff working late. They did not clarify whether a senator would be turned away for a ride if it was requested.

“The primary protective mission of the Senate sergeants-of-arms is the safety of Capitol staff and members,” Chief Sergeant Debbie Manning said in a statement. “In June, we discontinued the 24-hour overnight emergency program for senators and reassigned those two part-time employees through end-of-session (Sept. 11) to staff security.”

The 24-hour service began in February, following several high-profile drunken driving arrests involving lawmakers in recent years, including Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, the previous August. The Senate hired two retired state workers, at a salary of $2,532 per month each, to provide late-night or early-morning rides to members while they were in Sacramento.

The Sacramento Bee reported on the existence of the round-the-clock rides in late May. Senate officials initially defended the service as a security matter, but de León ultimately scrapped it a week later, citing the “confusion caused by recent media reports.”

Senators were given small plastic cards with a phone number for “Sacramento 24 hr transportation” that still worked when The Bee called it several times after the service had formally ended. Featuring a “California State Senate” banner across the top and a picture of the Capitol dome in the background, the cards also included Manning’s number, telling members to call her “in an emergency.”

The drivers’ employment with the Senate ends this week after the conclusion of the legislative session, Senate officials said. Whether they will return next year has yet to be decided.

“After the closure of this legislative year, the Senate will re-evaluate our after-hours security options for Senate staff,” Manning said.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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