Money

By Darcy Costello and Alison Noon, The Associated Press
Posted: 09/20/16 – 8:17 PM PDT |

SACRAMENTO >> In addition to their six-figure salaries and benefits, California’s 120 lawmakers are compensated for their cost of living and meals when they leave home and travel to Sacramento to write and pass bills.

Unlike in many other states, however, California lawmakers have over time crafted loosely worded rules for themselves that allow them to collect those payments regardless of whether they even show up to work.

It’s a perk unlike anything typically available to workers in the private sector, allowing lawmakers such as Assemblyman Roger Hernandez to take unlimited time off and continue collecting a tax-free, daily allowance of $176.

The West Covina Democrat said his 24 sick days this session were due to high blood pressure, a condition he disclosed to reporters after his wife accused him of physical abuse and obtained a restraining order against him during divorce proceedings.

He said he never considered waiving the $4,168 in per diem he collected over those days.

“My landlord in Sacramento didn’t consider waiving my rent,” Hernandez said of the Sacramento home he has leased for more than five years.

California lawmakers took 325 days off during the legislative session that recently ended to stay home sick, be with their families or other reasons unrelated to their jobs, but chose to receive about $56,000 collectively in taxpayer-funded living expenses, a review by The Associated Press found.

The AP obtained payroll documents through legislative open records requests and compared them to daily roll calls published in journals from the two-year legislative session from December 2014 through last Aug. 8. The data show lawmakers were absent from the Capitol a total of 1,093 days and the vast majority of them regularly collected payments for living expenses on days they were away.

Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin, California, about 90 miles from Sacramento, is among a handful of lawmakers who waive all per diem payments, choosing not to opt into a system that she calls flawed. When the Legislature is in session, she said she crashes on her parents’ couch in West Sacramento.

She said no employer pays you when you’re at home.

“That’s the kind of fringe benefit that we can let the taxpayers not have to fund,” she said.

State law allows per diem for living expenses connected to lawmakers’ official duties, namely attending a floor session or committee meeting, but also during “any other legislative function” authorized by the rules that lawmakers over time have written for themselves.

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