As a result of too many high profile drunken driver arrests involving California legislators, state senate officials have hired designated driving employees to drive home inebriated lawmakers.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León refused to discuss details of the program. “We’re not going to provide comment, because it’s a security issue,” his spokesman, Anthony Reyes, said.
The Sacramento Bee reported that four lawmakers in the past five years have been accused of driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Known as “special services assistants,” the designated drivers work in the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Office and are responsible for providing “ground transportation for Senate members.”
The Bee reported that the two employees—a retired Assembly sergeant-at-arms and a retiree from the Department of General Services—are paid $2,532 per month, of course at taxpayer expense.
A man who turned down the position said that the job description mandated that he work from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to drive senators home “just if they were drinking too much… and to pick them up and take them home.”
One legislative chief of staff told the Bee that the service is intended to prevent drunken driving by legislators.
State senators are given a small plastic card showing the “Sacramento 24 hr transportation” phone number. The card offers a stylish picture displaying a “California State Senate” banner across the top and a photo of the Capitol dome in the background. “In case of an emergency”—read extra loaded and designated drivers are already occupied with their esteemed colleagues—senators can call Senate’s Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Debbie Manning, who’s direct number appears on the card.
The Sacramento Bee reported the following list of lawmakers that did not call for driving assistance after drinking excessively, but wish that they had:
State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, arrested last August near the Capitol on suspicion of driving under the influence. Stopped by police around 2:30 a.m. for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, he blew a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a “wet reckless” charge.
Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina, was found not guilty of driving under the influence after a 2012 trial in Contra Costa County ended in a hung jury.
Then-Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach, pleaded no contest to drunken driving charges in 2011 after he was spotted driving erratically in his state-issued vehicle in Sacramento.
Then-Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, pleaded no contest to drunken driving charges in 2010 and was sentenced to two days in jail and three years’ probation.