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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.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff voiced objections to the proposal to ban fundraising during the end of session.

"The intentions are good, but it's unworkable," Huff said in a statement.

"If he truly wants to achieve this objective it should apply to all elected officials in the Legislature and in statewide office, as well as political candidates for those offices. That is a reform we can support. Unfortunately, this doesn't strike at the issue of the three Democrat Senators whose actions have perpetuated a cloud of scandal over this house."

Republican Senators Ted Gaines, Steve Knight and Mike Morrell made their own ethics proposal Friday, saying they want to double the prison sentence for officials convicted of bribery.

PHOTO: Darrell Steinberg during session in the Senate chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:40 p.m. with a response from Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.


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