SACRAMENTO — Saying that legislators ought to be treated as adults, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) disclosed Tuesday that the Assembly will not follow the lead of the Senate Rules Committee, which last week decided to vote in public before spending taxpayers' money on personal benefits for lawmakers and their staffs.
"I don't think any legislative body needs day-by-day, line-by-line rules as if they're children," Brown told reporters at a news conference. "I think they are adult enough to exercise good judgment."
The Times reported last month that lawmakers had met in private nearly 100 times since 1987 to vote themselves at least $1 million in benefits, such as life insurance, airline tickets, car telephones and increases in auto expense allowances.
Last week, the Senate Rules Committee voted to hold open meetings when discussing such issues as health benefits, insurance and car allowances for members.
Asked if the Assembly would follow suit, Brown said there "isn't a soul" in the Assembly who would want to risk the public's wrath by voting to spend public money in secret.
But Brown said the lower house, unlike the Senate, will rely on an opinion of the Legislature's lawyer, who has ruled that lawmakers can meet in secret whenever and wherever they want as long as they do not vote on a bill.
"The rules are very clear," Brown said. "Any time the Legislature . . . deems it appropriate for its purposes, it may hold matters of concern to it in private."
Although the Assembly Rules Committee has met at least 13 times in private since January, 1987, Brown maintained that the full Assembly has met only once behind closed doors in his nine years as Speaker, and that was to discuss whether legislators' driving records should be withheld from the public. Brown said the issue involved security and was appropriately discussed in private.
Other actions, such as the purchase of $250,000 life insurance policies for members, have been handled administratively by the Assembly's staff and did not need to be approved by public vote every step of the way, he said.
Brown also said he probably would be opposed to applying the state's open meeting law to the Legislature. Brown said such a provision would hinder the Legislature's ability to reach compromises.
"I think I ought to have every member that I want to in my office to discuss legislation, to tell them where I think they're being stupid and where they're not," he said.