Capitol Alert: California Senate to consider whistleblower protection for staff

05/09/2014 2:30 PM

05/09/2014 2:38 PM

Senate staff members would get whistleblower protection when reporting misconduct and senators would be banned from political fundraising during the last four weeks of session under a draft of new rules the California Senate will begin to consider this month.

The Legislature's upper house has been rocked this year by criminal charges against three of its members -- including one case of perjury and two of corruption -- and the recent revelation that its in-house law enforcement chief withheld information about an employee who used drugs the night he was involved in a fatal gunfight.

Now the Senate is considering the following rule changes, according to a draft obtained by The Bee:

Fundraising Blackout Period: Effective August 1, 2014, Senators would not be allowed to engage in fundraising during the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Whistleblower Protection: Senate employees would be given whistleblower protection when reporting suspected wrongdoing by senators or other employees.

Senate Ombudsperson: The Senate would create a new position of ombudsperson to act as an "independent and confidential avenue" for staff and senators to report unethical behavior. The ombudsman would establish a public hotline for reports of alleged misconduct.

The Senate Rules Committee, headed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will begin considering the rules. The Senate could set the new rules with a simple majority vote of the 40-member body. Unlike a change in state law, the rules would would not need approval by the Assembly or Gov. Jerry Brown.

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