Politics & Government

California Taliban: No bare shoulders in the Assembly

SACRAMENTO — Bad news for bare shoulders.

While mercury soared to triple digits Wednesday, Assembly sergeants-at-arms began notifying women that a new policy requires them to wear a coat or sweater to enter the chamber.

The new policy is squishy, unwritten and still developing, but the goal is to fill in the gaps of a longstanding rule requiring visitors, credentialed media and legislative aides to wear "appropriate business attire" on the Assembly floor.

"This is the chamber of the Assembly, this isn't a barn," said Ronald Pane, Assembly sergeant-at-arms.

For years, Assembly guards had not rigidly enforced the "business attire" rule, but Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, recently began a push to spruce up decorum in the 80-member lower house.

A recent memo by Calderon, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and other Democratic and Republican leaders specified that appropriate attire for men is a coat and tie.

No specifics were given for women — until Wednesday.

Pane said appropriate business attire for women should mirror that of elected assemblywomen, which he characterized as basically including a coat or sweater, with some discretion for alternative business wear.

Pane said Assembly guards were not turning women away Wednesday but were notifying them of the new standard.

One woman who sought entrance Wednesday and was informed by an Assembly guard about the new policy complied by putting on a men's coat that hung several inches below her fingertips.

Tony Beard, Senate sergeant-at-arms, said the upper house also has a "business attire" rule. It requires men to wear a coat and tie, but does not specify what women must wear, he said.

Assemblywoman Lori Saldana pointed out that short sleeves, cap sleeves and scoop necks have become the norm in women's professional attire trends. The San Diego Democrat said female lawmakers already conform to an unwritten agreement to avoid sleeveless dresses and tops.

"I'm old enough to remember when I had to wear a dress to school," Saldana said, "so when I heard this could be happening again my response was, 'Do we have to break out the burqas?' "

Calderon said that an Assembly dress code is appropriate – "women should look at how members are dressed on the floor and use that as a guide" – but that he has not specifically banned bare-shouldered female visitors or aides.

"No, I think it could be a blouse," Calderon said. "But it ought to be something that's more dress (up) than not. It's a judgment call, but we want the overall image of the floor to reflect the members – and we want it to reflect professionalism."

Despite its amorphous nature, Saldana said members and staff already adhere to the spirit of the dress code while wearing a variety of styles.

"I think the men and women who work in the building are professional and they dress appropriately," said Saldana. On Wednesday, she wore a patterned green long-sleeved blouse and white pants she said she purchased specifically to wear during Sacramento's stifling summers.

Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said she was not aware of any formal rule about what she can or can't wear on the floor, but she had a good reason for wearing a coat.

Despite the heat wave, temperatures in the air-conditioned Assembly chambers were pretty cold, she said.