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AB 2065 would give whistleblower protection to legislative staff

The California Whistleblower Protection Act, according to the California State Auditor website, protects state employees from retaliation by employers, potential employers or state officials for reporting improper or illegal activity. State employees who work for the legislature, however, do not have protection from retaliation or termination for reporting wrongdoing. Of the three branches of state government, this is the only one that does not provide protection to its employees under this state law.

Two Southern California state legislators are seeking to change that. Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore and Jeff Gorell of Camarillo have written a bill, AB 2065, which would extend the protections of the act to include legislative staff members who report unethical or illegal activity in the California Legislature. It would also provide a process for reporting such activity.

As Rep. Gorell noted, "Legislative staff members are often the closest in proximity to instances of fraud, waste, and other violations, and as such are in the best position to report." He noted that employees of state universities as well as those who work in the judicial and executive branches of California government have whistleblower protections. He said that "it is appropriate and necessary to give legislative staff this protection."

Rep. Melendez noted the legislature's responsibility to ensure an "atmosphere of transparency and accountability." She echoed Gorell's statement in pointing out that "legislative employees have a unique opportunity to help provide that accountability by reporting any unethical behavior."

AB 2065 has already gotten out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee with unanimous support. Next up is the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Most California employees have a variety of whistleblower protections under both federal and state law. These protections by no means guarantee that employers won't retaliate against them or even fire them. However, these laws do give them legal protection for doing the right thing. Individuals contemplating reporting illegal or inappropriate activity may benefit from seeking legal guidance before taking action rather than hoping that their employer will respond appropriately. However, those who have already reported wrongdoing and are experiencing retaliation still have the right to take legal action under whistleblower protection laws.

Source:  Murietta Patch, "Melendez Anti-Corruption Bill Clears Judiciary Committee" Renee Schiavone (editor), Apr. 29, 2014

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