Critics Question Legislative Recesses; Lawmakers Reject Do-Nothing Label

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    NEWSLETTERS

    From Washington, D.C., to Sacramento and San Diego, lawmakers are going on legislative recess. NBC 7’s political reporter Gene Cubbison shares details on Aug. 1, 2014. (Published Friday, Aug 1, 2014)

    For thousands of American lawmakers, Friday marked the first day of a spell that's free of regular meetings.

    They call it "legislative recess" but emphasize it's nothing like the summer down-time that schoolkids enjoy.

    From Capitol Hill to state legislatures and the grass-roots halls of local government, hearing chambers will go dark for five weeks for most elected officials.

    Critics suspect there will be too much slacking off during that time.

    "With a legislative recess, you don't know what they're addressing, if anything,” said Hud Collins, an attorney and former San Diego mayoral candidate who frequently has scolded mayors and council members in public hearings.

    "There's nothing wrong with getting a week or two of vacation as a break,” Collins added in an interview Friday. “But you don't take off four weeks, two weeks, four weeks. The total of legislative time in the city -- they have three months off."

    Legislative recesses add up to about 20 weeks a year for both the San Diego City Council and County Board of Supervisors.

    But their members and defenders argue that it's not real time "off", as in idle leave -- it's just an absence of official "quorum" sessions that take many hours of research, fact-finding and committee vetting before votes are cast.

    Attorney Bob Ottilie, who chairs the city’s salary setting commission, insists that council members are vastly underpaid for the heavy volume of public service they undertake.

    "They're working a 60-hour week outside of the legislative sessions,” Ottilie told NBC 7. “So they're doing a tremendous amount of work. In fact, arguably, they can focus better on projects and their agenda a lot better when they have some time away from the legislative sessions … the average councilmember is probably taking only one to two weeks of vacation a year."

    Council President Todd Gloria said there's no shortage of business in the councilmembers’ districts and intergovernmental issues to attend to during legislative recesses.

    "When we don't have meetings, that's really what gets freed up,” he noted, citing -- as examples -- consultations with council and city staff, site surveys for projects under development and responding to constituents on problems such as street light repairs.

    "I can just tell you myself, I'll spend the month meeting with constituents, going to community events, working on legislation to bring forth in the fall,” Gloria continued. “So it really isn't a time to put your feet up and relax. I'd like to do that. The reality is that this is the eighth largest city in the country; work continues to go on. I expect my Councilmembers will be working pretty hard this summer."

    As it turns out, the Council's in special session on Thursday to consider a tentative settlement of the "Jane Doe" lawsuit against the police department, and renew routine emergency declarations.

    An expected mayoral veto of the just-adopted minimum wage ordinance also figures to be dealt with.