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Legislative Code of Ethics

The rules and regs governing those who govern

By Chris Micheli, December 25, 2019 7:50 am

In California’s Constitution, Article IV dealing with the Legislature, there are several sections applicable to ethical conduct. These provisions are found in Sections 4 and 5 of the state constitution.

Prohibition on Certain Earned Income – Section 4

Section Four prohibits a Member of the Legislature from knowingly receiving any salary, wages, commissions, or other similar earned income from a lobbyist or lobbying firm, or from a person who, during the previous 12 months, has been under a contract with the Legislature. While the Legislature is charged with enacting laws that define earned income, the constitution provides that earned income does not include any community property interest in the income of a spouse.

Any Member who knowingly receives any salary, wages, commissions, or other similar earned income from a lobbyist employer, may not, for a period of one year following its receipt, vote upon or make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his or her official position to influence an action or decision before the Legislature, other than an action or decision involving a bill which he or she knows, or has reason to know, would have a direct and significant financial impact on the lobbyist employer and would not impact the public generally or a significant segment of the public in a similar manner.

Prohibition on Honorarium – Section 5

Section Five prohibits any Member of the Legislature from accepting any honorarium and the Legislature must enact laws that implement this prohibition. In addition, the Legislature must enact laws that ban or strictly limit the acceptance of a gift by a Member of the Legislature from any source if the acceptance of the gift might create a conflict of interest.

Members of the Legislature are prohibited from knowingly accepting any compensation for appearing, agreeing to appear, or taking any other action on behalf of another person before any state government board or agency.

If a Member knowingly accepts any compensation for appearing, agreeing to appear, or taking any other action on behalf of another person before any local government board or agency, the Member may not, for a period of one year following the acceptance of the compensation, vote upon or make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his or her official position to influence an action or decision before the Legislature, other than an action or decision involving a bill which he or she knows, or has reason to know, would have a direct and significant financial impact on that person and would not impact the public generally or a significant segment of the public in a similar manner.

However, a Member of the Legislature may engage in activities involving a board or agency which are strictly on his or her own behalf, appear in the capacity of an attorney before any court or the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, or act as an advocate without compensation or make an inquiry for information on behalf of a person before a board or agency

The Legislature is required to enact laws that prohibit a Member of the Legislature whose term of office commences on or after December 3, 1990, from lobbying, for compensation, before the Legislature for 12 months after leaving office.

The Legislature must also enact new laws, and strengthen the enforcement of existing laws, prohibiting Members of the Legislature from engaging in activities or having interests which conflict with the proper discharge of their duties and responsibilities.

In addition, in California’s Government Code, there are several code sections that set forth the legislative code of ethics. These statutes were added in 1966 and are found in Title 2, Division 2, Part 1, Chapter 1, Article 2. The provisions of law are summarized below:

Prohibitions on Legislators – Gov’t Code Sec. 8920

A Member of the Legislature, state elective or appointive officer, or judge or justice may not, while serving in such a position, have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business or transaction or professional activity, or incur any obligation of any nature, that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest and of his responsibilities as prescribed in the laws of this state.

In addition, a Member of the Legislature shall not do any of the following: Accept other employment that he or she has reason to believe will either impair his or her independence of judgment as to his or her official duties or require him or her, or induce him or her, to disclose confidential information acquired by him or her in the course of and by reason of his or her official duties; willfully and knowingly disclose, for pecuniary gain, to any other person, confidential information acquired by him or her in the course of and by reason of his or her official duties or use any such information for the purpose of pecuniary gain; or accept or agree to accept, or be in partnership with any person who accepts or agrees to accept, any employment, fee, or other thing of monetary value, or portion thereof, in consideration of his or her appearing, agreeing to appear, or taking any other action on behalf of another person before any state board or agency.

This does not prohibit a member who is an attorney at law from practicing in that capacity before any court or before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and receiving compensation therefor. It also does not prohibit a member from acting as an advocate without compensation or making inquiry for information on behalf of a constituent before a state board or agency, or from engaging in activities on behalf of another which require purely ministerial acts by the board or agency and which in no way require the board or agency to exercise any discretion, or from engaging in activities involving a board or agency which are strictly on his or her own behalf.

A Member of the Legislature may not receive or agree to receive, directly or indirectly, any compensation, reward, or gift from any source except the State of California for any service, advice, assistance or other matter related to the legislative process, except fees for speeches or published works on legislative subjects and except, in connection therewith, reimbursement of expenses for actual expenditures for travel and reasonable subsistence for which payment or reimbursement is not made by the State of California.

A Member of the Legislature may not participate, by voting or any other action, on the floor of either house, in committee, or elsewhere, in the passage or defeat of legislation in which he or she has a personal interest, except in specified circumstances.

Substantial Conflicts with Duties – Gov’t Code Sec. 8921

A person subject to this article has an interest that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest and of his or her responsibilities or a personal interest, arising from any situation, within the scope of this article, if he or she has reason to believe or expect that he or she will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss, as the case may be, by reason of his or her official activity.

He or she does not have an interest that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest and of his or her responsibilities as prescribed in the laws of this state or a personal interest, arising from any situation, within the scope of this article, if any benefit or detriment accrues to him or her as a member of a business, profession, occupation, or group to no greater extent than any other member of that business, profession, occupation, or group.

Proper Discharge of Duties – Gov’t Code Sec. 8922

A person subject to this article is not engaged in any activity that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest and of his or her responsibilities, or does not have a personal interest, arising from any situation, solely by reason of either of the following: His or her relationship to any potential beneficiary of any situation is one that is defined as a remote interest, or receipt of a campaign contribution, so long as the contribution is not made on the understanding or agreement, in violation of law, that the person’s vote, opinion, judgment, or action will be influenced by the contribution.

Employee Prohibition – Gov’t Code Sec. 8924

An employee of either house of the Legislature is prohibited, during the time he or she is employed, from committing any act or engage in any activity prohibited by this article. The provisions of this article that are applicable to a Member of the Legislature are also applicable to any employee of either house of the Legislature. However, this part does not prohibit an employee of either house of the Legislature from serving in an elective or appointive office of a regional or local public agency.

Council on Science and Technology – Gov’t Code Sec. 8924.5

The establishment of the California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships as a professional development program is consistent with the Legislature’s intent in requesting the creation of the council and is expressly designed to fulfill the council’s mission of assisting state policymakers as they face increasingly complex decisions related to science and technology challenges confronting the state in the 21st century.

The services of a California Science and Technology Policy Fellow provided by the California Council on Science and Technology and duly authorized by the Senate Committee on Rules, the Assembly Committee on Rules, or the Joint Committee on Rules are not compensation, a reward, or a gift to a Member of the Legislature.

A California Science and Technology Policy Fellow provided by the California Council on Science and Technology and duly authorized by the Senate Committee on Rules, the Assembly Committee on Rules, or the Joint Committee on Rules is not an employee of either house of the Legislature.

Inducement – Gov’t Code Sec. 8925

No person can induce or seek to induce any Member of the Legislature to violate any provision of this law.

Violations – Gov’t Code Sec. 8926

Every person who knowingly and willfully violates any provision is guilty of a misdemeanor, and every person who conspires to violate any provision is guilty of a felony.

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