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California Legislature’s new sexual harassment investigative unit signed into law

Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that implements the California Legislature’s new system for investigating sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and senior staff. 

Unlike the current system where the Senate and Assembly have separate processes, a new investigative unit in the Legislative Counsel’s office will handle complaints for both chambers.

The unit will look at all complaints, collect evidence and interview witnesses. A panel of outside experts will then determine whether allegations are substantiated and recommend consequences.

But it will then be up to the Senate or Assembly to accept or reject the panel’s recommendations and decide on the appropriate response.

The new system, which comes with a cost of $1.5 million for the current fiscal year, is expected to start investigating complaints by February.

In other bills signed by the governor Monday:

  • California’s largest cities will be able to lease Caltrans property to provide homeless services. A package of bills signed by Brown covers properties in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and Oakland, as well as in San Joaquin and Santa Barbara counties. It sets the price for the leases at $1 per month and requires the properties be used for emergency homeless shelters or programs that provide food. In a signing message, the governor noted the properties were never designed for those purposes and calls for the leases to be both safe and temporary.
  • Criminal penalties for California sidewalk vendors will soon be eliminated. It’s currently up to each city and county to ban or regulate sidewalk vendors. But a new law that takes effect in January instead lays out requirements for how local governments can regulate the vendors. It’s in response to the detainment last year by federal immigration authorities of a mother of four who was arrested for selling corn. An immigration judge later ordered her release.
  • Two new laws could help Californians who vote by mail. One requires the Secretary of State’s office to develop a tool by 2020 allowing voters to track their mail-in ballots. It would also let counties send out reminders to voters to return their ballots. The other requires counties to give voters the chance to verify their signatures on mail ballots that don’t match the signatures on file. It’s an urgency measure that takes effect immediately ahead of the November election.
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