California Senators Vote To Force An Extended 'Leave Of Absence'

January 25, 2018

By Ben Bradford

California state Senators rushed from the State of the State address to adopt a new rule—and prevent the return of a lawmaker accused of sexual harassment.

The rule allows the five-member Rules Committee, currently led by Democratic state Senate leader Kevin De León, to extend a Senator’s leave of absence, when they’ve voluntarily taken one.

Authors of legislation usually pitch why it’s necessary, but de León introduced the resolution this way.

“I think it’s pretty self-explanatory,” said de León.

It’s intended to keep Democratic state Senator Tony Mendoza away from the Capitol, while he’s investigated for multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Mendoza has denied wrongdoing, and only agreed to step away for a month after sustained pressure from lawmakers. While on leave, he’s continued to hold public events and has returned to the Capitol at least once.

But some lawmakers worried the legislation could invest too much power in the Rules Committee. Republican Senator Joel Andersen argued lawmakers already have a path to temporarily bar Mendoza from the Senate.

“To force a leave of absence on him is a suspension. And the rule for suspension is we vote for it on the floor,” Andersen said.

In 2016, voters approved Proposition 50, which allows suspensions—with or without pay—by a two-thirds vote.

Democratic Senator Richard Roth said he cared more about the result than whether de León's resolution was the right vehicle.

“I choose to keep the individual out of the workplace,” Roth said, referring to Mendoza.

The measure passed, and the Rules Committee quickly suspended Mendoza from returning for up to 60 more days.

In a statement, Mendoza said: “The Senate’s actions are unfair and constitute disparate treatment as they are retroactive and specifically apply only to me and not to any other Senator or staff facing allegations.”