Following the outcome of last year’s California state legislative elections, steps were taken by newly elected Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León to balance the State Senate’s operating budget by laying off 39 administrative staffers.
But earlier this year, the de León switched course and hired two new employees to help the State Senate conduct business. Their job – to provide late night and early-morning rides for members too drunk to drive while they are in Sacramento doing the state’s business.
The service was established following several high-profile drunken driving arrests involving lawmakers in recent years.
And while the State President’s office declined to discuss the details or rationale of the program, the card explains itself.
Senate members were given small plastic cards with the number for “Sacramento 24 hr. transportation.” It features “California State Senate” banner across the top and a picture of the Capitol dome in the background, the card also includes a phone number for the Senate’s Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Debbie Manning, telling members to call her “in an emergency.”
Senate President spokesman Anthony Reyes declined to answer questions because “We’re not going to provide comment, because it’s a security issue.”
Senate records show that the two “special services assistants” work in the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Office and their duties include providing “ground transportation for Senate members.”
The employees, a retired Assembly sergeant-at-arms and a retiree from the Department of General Services, are paid $2,532 per month for their services.
Another man who turned down the job and did not want to be identified told The Sacramento Bee that Senate officials approached him earlier this year about working from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to drive senators home upon request.
The unnamed individual was informed that the shifts would only come when lawmakers were in Sacramento – Monday through Wednesday nights when the Legislature is in session.
According to the man, the purpose of the service would be to give rides “just if they were drinking too much. Just pick them up and take them home.” One legislative chief of staff confirmed that the service is intended to prevent drunken driving by legislators.
Several senators declined to comment when asked about the service.
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said the rides reflect the Legislature’s “air of entitlement” and that the existence of the service demonstrates the “growing divide between legislators and ordinary citizens.” Coupal said:
“They get all these perks.” “Perhaps at the end of session, when things run late, there could be some temporary allocation made so legislators can get to the airport. But on an ongoing basis, this makes no sense.”
If the choice is between providing a 24-hour ride service or lawmakers getting DUIs after drinking late at fundraisers, he added, then “the answer is not in providing them drivers. The answer is in showing some restraint.”