Constitutional Amendment To Strip Suspended Lawmakers’ Pay Advances In Assembly

NOTE: This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

A California constitutional amendment that would strip suspended lawmakers of their pay is a step closer to going before voters after it passed an Assembly hearing on Monday.

SCA17 was crafted in response to the recent legal troubles of three California state senators, and the inability of the state legislature to suspend their salaries. The three suspended senators have cast a pall on the crumbling Democratic supermajority in the state Senate.

Under current rules, the state Senate and Assembly can’t take a suspended lawmakers’ salary, because of a state constitutional amendment, Steinberg’s office contends.

Sens. Roderick Wright, Ron Calderon and Leland Yee were suspended on March 28 after all three refused to step down from their positions.

Wright was convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud in January after his 2010 grand jury indictment. At the time, Senate President Pro Tem declined to suspend Wright, instead opting to wait for his sentencing. Since then his sentencing was delayed in March and again in May until July 21.

Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, were indicted on Feb. 21. Ron Calderon was charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes, lavish trips and no-show jobs for his children in exchange for pushing legislation to benefit a hospital engaged in billing fraud and participating in a film industry tax scheme that actually was an FBI sting. He’s since pleaded not guilty.

Calderon, like Wright, wasn’t suspended initially by Steinberg. Instead, the indicted state senator decided to take a leave of absence in early March.

But following aspiring secretary of state candidate Yee’s March 26 arrest in connection with a gunrunning operation, Steinberg’s office held a forceful press conference demanding the three senators step down. Two months to the day of Wright’s conviction, the California Senate voted 28-1 to suspend the three senators.

The Senate, however, couldn’t touch the lawmakers’ salaries, according to Steinberg. His office instead says an opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau has his hands tied on the issue.

According to documents obtained by CBS13, the legislative office ruled the Senate couldn’t touch the suspended senators’ salaries, because that power falls under the California Citizens Compensation Commission. The legislative office pointed to a New Jersey court ruling in favor of a suspended state senator whose pay was stripped by that state’s senate.

In the months since the suspensions, the commission approved a 2 percent pay raise for state legislators and officers, including Yee, Wright and Calderon. One caveat of the commission is it must act unilaterally on all legislators’ salaries and can’t pick and choose who it goes after. That means raises for everyone, even if they’re suspended.

SCA17 has passed the state Senate, and will be scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly. If it passes, the measure would then move on to voters on a future ballot.

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Why Did Three Suspended California Senators Get A Pay Raise?

NOTE: This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission met on Friday and approved a 2 percent raise for California lawmakers and state officials, including embattled state Sens. Ron Calderon, Leland Yee and Roderick Wright.

As CBS13 reported exclusively reported on March 28, the three senators facing legal troubles have been officially suspended, but are still being paid because of a legal opinion from the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau.

The legislative bureau suggested to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s office that a state Constitutional amendment from 1990 meant to curb gifts an influence from lobbyists prevented the Senate from taking action. That fell under the California Citizens Compensation Commission‘s jurisdiction after Proposition 112 added this language to the constitution:

“Until a resolution establishing or adjusting the annual salary and the medical, dental, insurance, and other similar benefits for state officers takes effect, each state officer shall continue to receive the same annual salary and the medical, dental, insurance, and other similar benefits received previously.” (Article III, Section 8, subdivision i)

The commission approved Friday’s 2 percent raise for state officials and legislators, but took no action on the three embattled senators.

Why would the one commission who has jurisdiction over the legislators’ pay not take up the issue?

CBS13 got answers from Steinberg’s office and found out while the commission determines if legislators get a pay bump, and how big of a pay bump, the change must be done across the board. The commission cannot change individual legislators’ pay, including stripping Yee, Calderon and Wright of their taxpayer-funded salary.

Raises Effective Dec. 2014

Position Current Salary New Salary
Governor $173,987 $177,467
Lieutenant Governor $130,490 $133,100
Attorney General $151,127 $154,150
Secretary of State $130,490 $133,100
Controller $139,189 $141,973
Treasurer $139,189 $141,973
State Superintendent $151,127 $154,150
Insurance Commissioner $139,189 $141,973
Board of Equalization $130,490 $133,100
Speaker of the Assembly $109,584 $111,776
Senate Pres. Pro Tem $109,584 $111,776
Minority Floor Leader $109,584 $111,776
Majority Floor Leader $102,437 $104,486
Junior Minority Leader $102,437 $104,486
All Other Legislators $95,291 $97,197

Steinberg’s office has put forward another state Constitutional amendment, SCA17, that would allow the same body that suspends a legislator to also suspend that legislator’s salary.

The amendment has already passed the state Senate and is set for an Assembly Rules Committee hearing on Thursday.

REVIEW: Mario Kart 8 Is The Kick In The Pants Nintendo Needed For The Wii U

mario kart

This review originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

After nearly a week of playing Mario Kart 8, it appears this entry is the best to come out of the two decades of the game. Nintendo has shown it is more than capable of showcasing what its systems can do through its first party titles.

Most of the complaints I have about the game are small and have already been addressed in plenty of other reviews:

The Battle mode has been nerfed. While I enjoyed occasionally turning a race into an all-out battle fest with my nephews, having tracks double as battle courses severely cripples the mode. Even with 12 racers, tracks can feel barren and opportunities to hit your opponent are few and far between. It doesn’t help that this game doesn’t have an onscreen map.

Lack of customization. Mario Kart 8 provides plenty of ways to change your kart. Unlockable options include new bodies, new wheels and even new gliders. But the differences between those parts are few and far between. Up to four of the wheels can offer the same statistics, with the only differences being cosmetic. Mix in that the 30 character options boil down to heavyweight, medium-weight, and lightweight and there just aren’t that many directions to go.

Online waiting times. I’ll give Nintendo credit, they’ve gotten better with online systems since the last generation. But I’ve encountered too many times where I’ve been ready to jump into a random online race, only to be greeted by the beginning another race. While it’s nice to see other racers compete, these wait times can cause competitors to drop out and shrink the field you’re racing against.

But even with those issues and my long-winded dissections of them, the eighth installment in this franchise is just the thing the Wii U needs to get out of its funk. The console’s been bogged down by headlines about its poor sales and even calls for Nintendo to pull a Sega and kill the Wii U off Dreamcast-style.

That last idea seems more like click-bait than reality. Still, the console’s lifetime sales are locked between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, despite a one-year advantage.

Nintendo reported that more than 1 million copies of Mario Kart 8 sold in the opening weekend alone, giving the company a solid boost, though there was no official breakdown of how many new console sales came from the game.

One thing Mario Kart 8 shows off that will help push console sales is just how it looks. While Sony and Microsoft had more powerful consoles in the previous generation than the original Wii, and even more powerful entries this generation, Mario Kart 8 shows the Wii U’s graphical capabilities are nothing to sneeze at in the right hands. The game runs buttery smooth at 60 frames per second in 720p, even in two-player races (Nintendo still hasn’t cracked the smooth four-player race yet). The result is an experience that looks the most advanced of this generation so far.

But those are just a bunch of numbers that don’t do the game justice. Instead, here’s a video showing of the reimagining of the Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road course at the 1:05 mark.

This is all in-game footage. It’s not the sort of pre-rendered sizzle reel that doesn’t exist on the disc you’ll see plenty of at next week’s Entertainment and Electronics Expo.

Following Rainbow Road on that video is another retro track—the game features 16 of them, as has been the norm—from Super Mario Kart (SNES). Instead of simply creating a graphically updated version of the older courses, Nintendo’s gone and redone them, incorporating the game’s new features, like zero-gravity stretches and underwater plunges.

The best example of the drastic change is the update to Moo Moo Meadows, as shown in this video. The track on the left is from the Wii version released last generation:

In addition to the retro courses, there are 16 new courses for a total of 32 tracks that each have their own distinct feel. One race you’ll be gliding by a castle, the next you’ll be dodging streetcars in an oceanside city, and another you’ll be watching Shyguys rave in the Electrodome (sadly, no glowsticks, just a ton of neon).

The best new feature this game has to offer isn’t its graphics, or its tracks, or its new items (finally one that can destroy a blue shell!).

It’s the highlight videos.

After each race, you can view a 30-second reel of the best moments from the race. It ranges from tricks to hits to daring passing moves. It even shows when one of your green shells happens to wipe out your girlfriend’s cart a good six seconds after you launched it. Or that time she plowed you into a cable car.

The highlights range from 30 seconds to the entire race and allow you to focus on certain racers. This, combined with the intensity of Luigi’s facial expressions, has created a small Internet phenomenon revolving around Luigi’s death stare.

But really, the entire reason I’m writing this is to show off my own highlight video. I had to make sure to bury it this far in so you wouldn’t get suspicious.

Check out that hangtime.