Capitol Alert

Whistleblower bill Democrats killed four years in a row passes with new urgency

Sexual harassment cases at the California Capitol

Two lawmakers have resigned and one is on leave at the California Capitol over allegations of improper conduct toward women at the California Capitol. At least one other is under investigation, while the Legislature decides what the next steps are.
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Two lawmakers have resigned and one is on leave at the California Capitol over allegations of improper conduct toward women at the California Capitol. At least one other is under investigation, while the Legislature decides what the next steps are.

The California Senate approved a Republican bill to extend whistleblower protections to legislative employees Thursday after previously halting the legislation in the house four years in a row.

Assembly Bill 403, with more than half of state lawmakers added as co-authors, cleared the Senate with a 38-0 vote. Earlier iterations of the legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, had quietly died in the Senate Appropriations Committee before sexual harassment allegations upended the Capitol late last year.

Melendez said she felt “relief” to see the bill finally pass the Senate. She said the Harvey Weinstein scandal pushed women in the Capitol to speak up.

“I think they saw an opportunity that this was the only time they were ever going to have where people would listen to them and listen to what they’re saying,” Melendez said.

Senate President Pro Kevin de León thanked Assemblywoman Melendez for her consistent commitment to the legislation and said the bill codifies existing rules in the Senate.

De León pointed out that Sen. Anthony Portantino, D- La Cañada Flintridge, had introduced similar legislation that died in the Assembly in previous years.

“We’re one step forward to providing the necessary protections for all staff members for hopefully many many many years to come,” de León said.

The bill 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 executive and judicial branches of state government already offer such protections, but the Legislature was previously exempt from the law.

“Legislative staff should never have to risk their careers and livelihoods for reporting sexual harassment or any other type of illegal behavior,” said Republican Senate leader Pat Bates of Laguna Niguel.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 419, introduced by Portantino, Tuesday that extends whistleblower protections to lobbyists and requires the Legislature to hold onto records related to sexual harassment for 12 years.

Melendez’s bill was amended in the Senate on Monday and must return to the Assembly for a final vote before it moves to the governor’s desk. It carries an urgency clause, which means it will take effect immediately if the governor signs the bill.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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