A bill to secure protections for legislative staffers who report ethics or other breaches related to sexual harassment and similar misconduct by their bosses was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The Assembly unanimously approved AB 403 by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, earlier Monday. The Senate voted 38-0 in favor of the bill on Thursday.
“This is a momentous occasion for all of California, and particularly legislative staff,” Melendez said.
“The foundation to any government by and for the people is one rooted in transparency and accountability. And today, the Legislature, with the stroke of the governor’s pen, just became the example for the nation for whistleblower protection. Victims can now feel empowered that the system is there to protect them for speaking out rather than punishing them.*
The Legislative Employee Whistleblower Protection Act has been carried by Melendez in the same general form for the last four years. Previous bills netted wide bipartisan support and passed the Assembly but were held up and died due to inaction in the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.
The current bill was co-sponsored by multiple legislators, including Assemblywomen Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.
“Without hesitation Governor Brown gave victims peace of mind and clearly signaled #TimesUp for those who’d retaliate against the voices of truth,” said Garcia, who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus.
“Assemblymember Melendez is to be commended for her foresight and persistence that will usher in a new era of trust and accountability that the Capitol community demands and deserves.”
The bill was signed following the resignation of Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, in December, just days after he was accused of masturbating in front of a female lobbyist during a Las Vegas party, and 18 alleged cases of sexual harassment, including several by current or past members from Los Angeles or Orange counties, including sharing of pornographic photos and a staff member accused of grabbing a woman’s buttocks and genitals, publicly disclosed by the Legislature on Friday, detailed through investigation records that had been shielded in some cases for more than a decade.
AB 403 replicates the measures Melendez introduced in prior years, seeking to ensure that members of the Legislature, as well as their agents, face consequences for intimidating or threatening a person who attempts to draw attention to their alleged misdeeds.
The legislation specifies that any lawmaker, or someone on his or her staff, “who interferes with, or retaliates against, a legislative employee’s exercise of the right to make a protected disclosure (regarding activity) that may constitute a violation of law, including sexual harassment, or a violation of a legislative standard of conduct” shall be subject to criminal and civil penalties.
Those would include a fine of $10,000 and a year in county jail. A victim would also have the right to file a lawsuit and seek damages.
AB 403 is intended to provide the same protections afforded employees in state agencies and the courts under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1999, which freed impacted parties to file ethics complaints or other official allegations of wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.
—City News Service
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