It’s now officially campaign season, so California voters will hear a lot of promises from legislators to represent them well. Then why did they pass a last-minute, self-serving bill to make it easier for them to live outside their districts?
This should be an easy call for Gov. Jerry Brown. Veto Senate Bill 1250.
Under the bill, legislators must still be registered to vote in their districts, and whatever address they put on their registration will be presumed to be their actual residence, as long as they live there for some period of time and plan to return.
As The Sacramento Bee’s Caitlin Chen reports, one goal of SB 1250 is to protect legislators from legal problems – from “being targeted by overzealous prosecutors or political adversaries,” wrote the bill’s author, Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena.
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In 2014, Bradford’s predecessor in Senate District 35, Rod Wright was found guilty of felony perjury and voting fraud for living outside his district and lying about it. He resigned and spent a brief stint in jail.
Other legislators have also been accused of skirting residency rules. They include state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat who was criticized after The Bee reported that he did not live in the Pocket-area condo where he was registered to vote, but with his wife and children in Natomas — outside his district.
SB 1250 specifies situations that can’t be used to prove a legislator doesn’t live in his or her district, such as owning or renting a residence outside the district, having a spouse or partner living outside the district for their job or having children in a school tied to an out-of-district address.
Supporters of the bill say it also would make it easier on legislators’ families. For example, Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Marina del Rey, is a single mom who plans to enroll her 4-year-old daughter in school in Sacramento so they can be together during the legislative session, which runs from January to September.
The residency issue may need to be clarified. But this bill goes too far. The Legislature should not head in the direction of the U.S. House, whose members only need to live in California, not in their congressional district.
SB 1250 won final approval on the next to last day of the legislative session last week, on a 66-7 vote by the Assembly, so at least some legislators see the danger in this bill.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, warned that the measure would let lawmakers move from poorer neighborhoods to more affluent communities. “When colleagues don’t reside in their district, we forget the problems we have to face,” she said.
Actually living in the same place as the voters who elect you isn’t too much to ask. And some lawmakers apparently need to be reminded that serving in the Legislature is an honor and a privilege. It’s also well compensated; on Dec. 3, their base salary increases by 3 percent to $110,459 a year.
If legislators believe the residency rules are too much of a burden, there are plenty of Californians who would gladly take their place. And they would have no problem living in the district they’re supposed to represent.