California Sens. Rod Wright and Ron Calderon, both facing legal battles, are taking leaves of absence from their jobs, which they cannot perform effectively at the moment. So far, so good.
But it's appalling that both men will continue receiving their salaries, even though they'll be doing nothing to represent the constituents they're supposed to serve.
The Senate doesn't have the power to withhold pay from a senator. That should change for cases like these, but until it does, lawmakers should call on Calderon and Wright to forgo their pay voluntarily.
Calderon has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts in what's being called California's biggest case of alleged corruption since the 1980s, when the Shrimpscam sting sent three legislators and a member of the tax board to prison. The Montebello Democrat faces up to 396 years in prison if he's convicted of taking $60,000 from FBI agents posing as film studio executives seeking his support for tax credits and $28,000 from a hospital executive for shaping legislation aiding a health care fraud scheme.
Calderon should be presumed innocent, but if he had any sense of decency, he would resign. He is in the final year of his term-limited Senate career, and it will be mostly if not entirely consumed by his legal troubles. He said Sunday he expects to be gone at least through the end of the legislative session in August. His constituents need a representative.
Wright's case seems different. The Inglewood Democrat was convicted in January of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury for living outside his district and lying about it. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says that the law is ambiguous and that he'll wait until the trial judge confirms the verdict at Wright's sentencing in May to act.
Steinberg has taken heat for going too light on Wright, presumably to preserve the Democrats' two-thirds majority. But waiting until sentencing is consistent with the law. With Wright and Calderon on leave, the Democrats have lost their supermajority anyway.
Wright has three years remaining in office. On the slim chance the trial judge sets aside the verdict, his resignation would be irreversible.
Now, though, these men are getting paid vacations at taxpayer expense -- an indefensible position. Cases like these undermine public trust and confirm Californians' worst suspicions about self-dealing politicians.
Senators could restore some small bit of confidence by insisting their fellow lawmakers take no public compensation while they are not serving the public.