California Legislative Staff Might Finally Get Whistleblower Protection

Nov 7, 2017

For four straight years, the California Senate has quietly shelved an Assembly bill that would have provided whistleblower protection to legislative employees.

Now, the sexual harassment turmoil at the Capitol could give the bill new life, with California Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León's office now backing the effort.

"As the Senate weighs a number of reforms, it will work with the Joint Rules Committee and the Women’s Caucus on developing those reforms," de León spokesman Jonathan Underland said. "Part of that effort will be to strengthen existing whistleblower protections, including enshrining them in statute to encourage victims to come forward."

De León (D-Los Angeles), who’s running for U.S. Senate next year against incumbent Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has headed either the Appropriations Committee or the full body in each of the years the bill has failed.

Although the Legislature has passed a law giving whistleblower protection to California executive branch employees who report wrongdoing, it has somehow never done so for its own staff members.

"At first, I didn’t believe it – I thought, that cannot possibly be true,“ says Asm. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore). “And then when we looked into it, we found out it was true.”

So four years ago, Melendez introduced a bill to fix that. She's still trying.

“Four years in a row, the bill passed with unanimous, bipartisan support – only to be killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee,” she says.

Appropriations committees are where California legislative leaders shelve bills they want to get rid of without a record – like a roll call vote.

Now, as reports of sexual harassment rock the Capitol, Melendez is trying again – with specific language to cover such complaints.

“This bill covers any unethical, immoral, illegal behavior – to include sexual harassment,“ Melendez says. “However, because there are some who feel that they just would feel more comfortable if it is spelled out in the bill, we are happy to do that.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) backs that effort, his office says, noting that Rendon voted for Melendez's bill in each of the last four years.

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