Capitol Alert

Blowing the whistle on sexual harassers may get easier for Capitol workers this week

In this August 2017 photo, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, sits at the Capitol in Sacramento. For four years in a row, Melendez has authored a bill to enshrine whistleblower protections into law for those legislative staff members who come forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment, only to have the bills killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In this August 2017 photo, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, sits at the Capitol in Sacramento. For four years in a row, Melendez has authored a bill to enshrine whistleblower protections into law for those legislative staff members who come forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment, only to have the bills killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. AP

Before sexual harassment allegations rattled the Capitol, legislation by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, to extend whistleblower protections to workers in the statehouse died in the Senate four years in a row.

Now an amended version of the Legislative Employee Whistleblower Protection Act – with an urgency clause and more than half of the Legislature added on as co-authors – is back in the Senate and expected to come up for a floor vote Thursday.

Assembly Bill 403 makes it illegal to retaliate against a legislative worker who blows the whistle on a lawmaker or another employee with “a good faith allegation” for any action that may violate state law or a legislative code of conduct. The Senate currently operates with a code of conduct, while the Assembly does not.

Anyone who retaliates against a legislative employee faces up to a $10,000 fine and one year in jail, as well as civil liability, under the bill.

New amendments, including the removal of a provision protecting the identity of the person who lodges the complaint and other witnesses, are expected today. Open government advocates pushed back on language that prohibited the disclosure of investigative files related to allegations. The Assembly Speaker’s Office said lawmakers are working on follow-up legislation to ensure confidentiality for those who come forward.

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WORTH REPEATING: “You didn’t have money, so you took the cheapest buck.” – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, criticizing gubernatorial rival Antonio Villaraigosa for working for Herbalife after he left the Los Angeles Mayor’s office

LACTATION ROOMS: California law requires employers to make reasonable efforts to provide new mothers with a space other than a bathroom stall to pump breast milk at work. Today Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener and Connie Leyva are introducing legislation to set basic standards for lactation rooms, make it more difficult for employers to opt out of providing a space and require the state to draft model policy guidelines for pumping facilities. A press conference to unveil the proposal begins at 10 a.m. in San Francisco. You can watch a livestream here.

APPOINTED: Gov. Jerry Brown reappointed California State Auditor Elaine Howle, the state’s chief watchdog, to a fifth term last week. Lawmakers stalled her reappointment last year after receiving an anonymous letter critical of her management. They crafted a pair of new laws that allow whistleblowers to report allegations about the auditor’s office to a different agency and more explicitly spell out the role of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in the candidate recruitment process. Howle, 59, made waves last year with a blistering audit of the University of California and a probe that uncovered widespread abuse of disabled person placards under the watch of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

MUST READ: A Bee investigation proves sexual harassment in state government persists far beyond the Capitol dome. California paid more than $25 million in the last three years to settle sexual harassment claims against state agencies and public universities.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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