Today’s podcast is on the role of legislative ethics committees.

Ethics in the California Legislature is an important topic. As such, both houses of the Legislature have their own individual ethics committees. Moreover, the Senate has adopted an official Code of Conduct for its members. While the Assembly has not, it too shares similar concerns to ensure that there are codes of conduct in place for all legislators. Both houses have extensive ethics and conflict of interest rules, and both are bound by constitutional and statutory ethics rules.

The Assembly Legislative Ethics Committee consists of six members of the Assembly who are appointed by the Assembly Speaker. This committee has the power to investigate and make any appropriate findings and recommendations concerning violations of the rules by Assembly Members. The Committee’s authority is set forth in the Standing Rules of the Assembly as well as Article III of the Government Code commencing with Section 8940.

Under these Assembly rules, any person may file a verified complaint in writing stating the name of the Assembly Member who is alleged to have violated any standard of conduct. The written complaint must set forth the particulars of the alleged violation with sufficient clarity and detail to enable the Committee to make a determination.

The Senate Committee on Legislative Ethics is appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules and it consists of six Senators. In addition to this committee, the Rules Committee appoints an Ethics Ombudsperson for assisting in the resolution of potential ethical violations as well as assisting the Senate and providing remedies for retaliatory conduct to ensure that an informant or a complainant does not suffer adverse consequences with respect to his or her employment in the California State Senate.

The Senate Ombudsperson is accessible to Senators, officers, and employees of the State Senate, as well as members of the public who wish to provide information or seek guidance about ethical standards or possible violation of standards before filing a formal complaint. All communications are confidential between the informant or complainant and the ombudsperson. The ombudsperson may refer the information to the Rules Committee Chair, the Legislative Ethics Committee Chair, and/or the Secretary of the Senate. In all cases, the identity of the informant or complainant is kept confidential unless that person consents.

The Senate Committee is required to maintain a public hotline telephone number for purposes of contacting the ombudsperson. The complaints received through this hotline are considered informal complaints and the existence of the complaints must be kept confidential. In addition, the Senate Committee must formulate and recommend Standards of Conduct for Senators as well as the officers and employees of the Senate in performing their legislative responsibilities.

Ethics will always play an important role in the Legislative process. Please listen to today’s podcast for more information on the roles, duties and responsibilities, and powers of the legislative ethics committees.