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California State Capitol. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Frequently Asked Questions about the California Legislature

California is a bicameral legislature

By Chris Micheli, October 23, 2023 2:45 am

For those not familiar, I put together the following questions and answers for those queries that are most often posed regarding the California Legislature:

Does the Legislature share it lawmaking power with voters? Yes, because the people reserve to themselves the powers of initiative and referendum.

How many houses of the Legislature? Two. California is a bicameral legislature.

How many State Senators are there? 40 Senators elected for 4-year terms, 20 to begin every 2 years.

How many State Assembly Members? The Assembly has a membership of 80 members elected for 2-year terms.

When do legislators’ terms begin? The terms of a Senator or a Member of the Assembly commence on the first Monday in December next following their election.

What is the maximum, lifetime term of office for a state legislator? 12 years in the Senate, the Assembly, or both, in any combination of terms.

When is the election for state legislators? The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years.

What are the eligibility requirements for a state legislator? They must be a voter and a resident of the legislative district for one year, and a citizen of the United States and a resident of California for 3 years, immediately preceding the election.

What happens when there is a vacancy in the State Senate or Assembly? The Governor must immediately call an election to fill the vacancy.

When does the Legislature convene? It convenes in regular session at noon on the first Monday in December of each even-numbered year.

When does the Legislature adjourn sine die? Each session of the Legislature adjourns sine die by operation of the Constitution at midnight on November 30 of the following even-numbered year. Sine die is Latin for “without day.”

When can a special session be called? On extraordinary occasions, the Governor by proclamation may call the Legislature to assemble in special session.

May a legislator receive any income from a lobbyist or lobbying firm? No.

Do legislators receive a salary in addition to receiving compensation for their expenses? Yes, and that salary is set and adjusted by the California Citizens’ Compensation Commission.

Are legislators provided payments for their expenses while in Sacramento? Yes, unless a legislator declines those payments. Otherwise, travel and living expenses are provided to Members of the Legislature in connection with their official duties, except during the times that the Legislature is in recess for more than three calendar days.

Who judges the qualifications of a Member of the Legislature? Each house of the Legislature does so, and not the judiciary.

Can a legislator be expelled from office? Yes, each house can expel a Member of that house by a 2/3 vote of the Members of that house.

Can a legislator be suspended from office? Yes, each house may suspend a Member by motion or resolution adopted by a 2/3 vote. The motion or resolution must contain findings and declarations setting forth the basis for the suspension.

Can a legislator be paid an honorarium for giving a speech or writing an article? No Member of the Legislature may accept any honorarium.

Can a legislator accept a gift? Yes, up to the statutory limit. However, the acceptance of the gift cannot create a conflict of interest.

Can a legislator be compensated for appearing before or taking action for someone at a state agency or department? No, a Member of the Legislature cannot knowingly accept any compensation for appearing, agreeing to appear, or taking any other action on behalf of another person before any state government board or agency. There are limited exceptions.

Is there a “revolving door” limitation that applies to legislators? Yes, a Member cannot engage in paid lobbying of the Legislature for 12 months after leaving office.

What happens when a legislator resigns their office? Does the revolving door prohibition still apply? Yes, and the revolving door prohibition begins the day they resign their office through the end of that term, plus one year after their term was originally scheduled to expire.

Does the Legislature have to elected officers and adopt rules? Yes, each house is required to choose its officers and adopt rules for its proceedings.

Are the legislative publications required to be published? The main legislative publications are the Daily Files, Daily Journals, Weekly Histories, Statutory Record, New Laws Report, Table of Sections Affected, and Legislative Index. However, the only requirement is that each house shall keep and publish a journal of its proceedings.

Is the Legislature required to record and provide its proceedings online? Yes, the Legislature must create audiovisual recordings to be made of all proceedings in their entirety and make such recordings public through the Internet within 24 hours after the proceedings have been recessed or adjourned for the day, and they must maintain an archive of those recordings, which must be accessible to the public through the Internet and downloadable for a period of no less than 20 years.

Are legislative party caucuses allowed to meet in private? Yes, a caucus of the Members of the Senate, the Members of the Assembly, or the Members of both houses, which is composed of the members of the same political party, may meet in closed session.

How are legislative committees created? The Legislature or either house may by resolution provide for the selection of committees necessary for the conduct of its business, including committees to ascertain facts and make recommendations to the Legislature on a subject within the scope of legislative control. In addition, each house must appoint standing committees as the business of the house may require, the committees, the number of members, and the manner of selection to be determined by the rules of each house.

Can a legislator hold another state office? No, a member of the Legislature may not, during the term for which the member is elected, hold any office or employment under the State other than an elective office.

Is a legislator subject to civil process? Not while the Legislature is in session. A member of the Legislature is not subject to civil process during a session of the Legislature or for 5 days before and after a session.

Is there criminal liability for someone who tries to bribe a legislator? Yes, a person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.

Can the Legislature provide a financial bonus or additional compensation to a public employee or a contractor for state or local governments? No, because the Legislature has no power to grant, or to authorize a city, county, or other public body to grant, extra compensation or extra allowance to a public officer, public employee, or contractor after service has been rendered or a contract has been entered into and performed in whole or in part, or to authorize the payment of a claim against the State or a city, county, or other public body under an agreement made without authority of law.

Which house has impeachment power? The Assembly has the sole power of impeachment. Impeachments are tried by the Senate.

What is the vote requirement for a legislator to be removed from office by impeachment? A person may not be convicted unless, by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two thirds of the members of the Senate vote to convict on the impeachment charge.

Who is subject to impeachment by the Legislature? State officers elected on a statewide basis, members of the State Board of Equalization, and judges of state courts are subject to impeachment for misconduct in office.

What is the extent of the Legislature’s impeachment power? Judgment may extend only to removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the State, but the person convicted or acquitted remains subject to criminal punishment.

Who negotiates gaming compacts? Who approves gaming compacts? The Governor is authorized to negotiate and conclude compacts, subject to ratification by the Legislature, for the operation of slot machines and for the conduct of lottery games and banking and percentage card games by federally recognized Indian tribes on Indian lands in California.

Must legislative leaders specify their goals for the session and report on their outcome? Yes, at the convening of each regular session of the Legislature, the President pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the minority leader of each house must report to their house the goals and objectives of that house during that session and, at the close of each regular session, the progress made toward meeting those goals and objectives.

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