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Electing Officers in the California Legislature

Officers of each house are elected by the Members of either the Assembly or Senate

By Chris Micheli, May 31, 2022 9:35 am

In the California Legislature, officers of each house are elected by the Members of either the Assembly or Senate for their respective positions. Rules related to these elections are found in the state Constitution, Government Code, and rules of the respective houses.

State Constitution

Article IV of the California Constitution contains the constitutional provisions related to the legislative branch of state government. Section 7(a) provides that “each house shall choose its officers.” Nothing further is provided related to choosing officers, but Section 7(c)(4) specifies that political party caucuses may meet in closed session.

Government Code

The California Government Code provides for the election of officers and a majority vote is required for those elected to these positions. First, Government Code Section 9020 requires the Legislature to convene its Session on the first Monday in December and “immediately organize.” This includes election of officers. The Senate is described in Section 9022 and the Assembly in Section 9023.

Government Code Section 9170 provides that the “officers and employees of the Senate are:

(a) A President. (The Lt. Governor)

(b) A President pro tempore, one secretary, one Sergeant-at-Arms, one minute clerk and one chaplain.

(c) Other officers and employees deemed necessary by the Senate and provided for by resolution of the Senate.

Officers and employees in subdivision (b) shall be elected by a majority vote of the duly elected and qualified members of the Senate.” As a result, 21 votes (assuming all 40 Senators are seated) are required to elect the officers of the Senate.

Government Code Section 9171 provides that the “officers and employees of the Assembly are:

(a) A Speaker, a Speaker pro Tempore, a Majority Floor Leader, a Minority Floor Leader, one Chief Clerk, one Sergeant at Arms, one Minute Clerk and one Chaplain.

(b) Other officers and employees deemed necessary by the Assembly and provided for by resolution of the Assembly.

Officers and employees in subdivision (a), except the Majority and Minority Floor Leaders and Minute Clerk, shall be elected by a majority vote of the duly elected and qualified Members of the Assembly.” As a result, 41 votes (assuming all 80 Assembly Members are seated) are required to elect the officers of the Assembly.

Finally, Government Code Section 9173 specifies that “any officer or employee appointed or elected by the Senate or Assembly may at any time be removed in the same manner as is provided for his election or appointment.” In other words, the same majority vote is required to remove an officer of the Senate or Assembly.

State Senate Rules

In January 2021, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 3 (Atkins) relative to the Standing Rules of the Senate for the 2021-22 Regular Session. SR 10.5 concerns “Elected and Appointed Officers.” It repeats the constitutional and statutory provisions above by providing: “On the first day of each session, the President pro Tempore, members of the Committee on Rules, Secretary of the Senate, and Sergeant at Arms shall be elected by a majority vote of the duly elected and qualified Members of the Senate and shall serve until their successors are elected and qualify.”

As a result, on December 7, 2020, the officers of the Senate were elected. The body adopted Senate Resolution 2 (Hertzberg) relative to the election of officers. SR 2 provides in its entirety: “Resolved by the Senate of the State of California, That Senator Toni G. Atkins be, and is hereby, elected President pro Tempore of the Senate; that Erika Contreras Valles be, and is hereby, elected Secretary of the Senate; and that Katrina Rodriguez, be, and is hereby, elected Sergeant at Arms of the Senate.”

State Assembly Rules

In December 2020, the Assembly adopted House Resolution 1 (Cooley) relative to the Standing Rules of the Assembly for the 2021-22 Regular Session. AR1(a) concerns “Assembly General Officers.” It provides: 1. (a) The general officers of the Assembly are the following:

(1) Speaker

(2) Speaker pro Tempore

Assistant Speaker pro Tempore

Majority Leader

Republican Leader

(3) Chief Clerk

Sergeant at Arms

Chaplain

(b) Except for the officers listed in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a), each officer listed in subdivision (a) shall be elected by a majority vote of the duly elected and qualified Members. As a result, the Speaker, Chief Clerk, Sergeant at Arms, and Chaplain are elected by a majority vote.

Electing the Speaker at the convening of a new Session on the first Monday in December of the even-numbered year is the first order of business. That occurred on December 7, 2020. Thereafter, House Resolution 2 (Rendon) was adopted relative to the election of officers of the Assembly for the 2021–22 Regular Session. HR 2 provides in its entirety: “Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the following named persons constitute officers of the Assembly for the 2021–22 Regular Session:

Sue Parker, Chief Clerk

Alisa Buckley, Chief Sergeant at Arms

Imam Mohammad Yasir Khan, Chaplain

As described above, officers of both houses of the California Legislature are elected by a majority of their peers and serve at the pleasure of that majority, which is currently 21 Members of the Senate and actually 40 in the Assembly as of May 2022 because there are two vacancies. As soon as one or more of those vacancies are filled in the Assembly, then 41 Members of the Assembly are needed to elect an officer of that house.

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