California adds new whistleblower protections for legislative staff

California adds new whistleblower protections for legislative staff
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Employees working in California’s legislature will be covered under state whistleblower protection laws, the first step in what legislators say will be an ongoing effort to fix a culture that has enabled rampant sexual harassment and discrimination to take place.
 
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed a new measure to provide whistleblower protections to legislative employees, hours after the state Assembly passed the bill in a unanimous vote.
 
“This is a momentous occasion for all of California, and particularly legislative staff,” said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R), who authored the bill. “Victims can now feel empowered that the system is there to protect them for speaking out rather than punishing them.”
 
Before Brown’s signature, California whistleblower laws extended to employees in the state executive and judicial branches, but not in the legislative branch. Earlier versions of the bill authored by Melendez died in the state Senate on four separate occasions. 
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The new law, which takes effect immediately, is the first legislative step toward combating a culture of rampant harassment, brought to light when hundreds of women in and around the state capital signed a letter in October highlighting their treatment at the hands of male colleagues.
 
“As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not. Each of us has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces,” the women in California wrote. “We’re done with this.”
 
Assembly and Senate leaders set up a committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D), to investigate the root causes of harassment in Sacramento. Last week, the legislature released details of sexual misconduct investigations into members and top staffers that stretched back more than a decade, including complaints against four lawmakers who are still in office.
 
In an interview with The Hill last month, Friedman said more protection for those who come forward with claims of harassment was among her top priorities.
 
“At the end, success means that we change our rules and transparency,” Friedman said. “We’re going to have a sea change in how we operate.”
 
Legislative staff celebrated the bill’s passage Monday at a rally outside the Capitol, where they blew whistles.