Thursday, April 16, 2009

AZ, other states improving whistleblower laws

PEER releases nationwide whistleblower update.

PHOENIX -- Arizona ranks 12th on PEER's state whistleblower protection list, an improvement since 2006, which is good news. Nevada ranks 22, Utah 41 and New Mexico ranks last. Nevertheless, my bipartisan AZ anti-fraud false claims act bill, HB2595, which would improve whistleblower protections when employees expose fraud against the state, is currently stalled in the AZ House due to opposition from some big corporations who may be committing most of the fraud.

WASHINGTON -- Many states are adopting new laws to protect their civil servants who report waste, fraud and abuse, according to a legal analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While the level of whistleblower protection varies widely across the country, several states are enacting safeguards that surpass those afforded to federal employees.

"Whistleblower laws are a telling measure of transparency and accountability," stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, who compiled recent state legislation. "These laws open secure channels for public servants to communicate with their true employers - the citizens who pay their salaries."

Since 2006, when PEER first rated state disclosure laws, more than 20 states have significantly broadened their whistleblower laws. Some notable changes include:
  • Two states (Minnesota and Washington) now provide protection to government scientists confronting suppression or manipulation of technical findings. This March, President Obama announced the beginning of an effort to craft similar safeguards in federal agencies;
  • Two states (South Dakota and New Hampshire) have new laws protecting free speech rights of state employees, in reaction to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision stripping all government workers of First Amendment protection on the job. Today, 12 states have "anti-gag" provisions forbidding blanket non-disclosure orders. Similar legislation has been pending in Congress for a decade; and
  • Twelve states have new laws sanctioning state employee reports of health and safety violations. Several of these provisions have procedural protections that are stronger than the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) whistleblower provisions.

PEER has completed a detailed analysis of every state's laws, ranking each on 32 factors affecting the scope of coverage, usefulness and remedies. By these measures, California, the District of Columbia and Tennessee have the strongest whistleblower laws while Virginia, Vermont and New Mexico have the weakest. There is no apparent "red state" versus "blue state" pattern: Oklahoma, for example, has stronger laws than New York. Nor is there a clear geographic pattern: the laws of North Dakota and Louisiana, for example, are substantially stronger than those of South Dakota and Georgia.

"Significantly, no state is weakening whistleblower protection," added Erickson. "Nor is there any evidence that states with broad whistleblower protections are less able to maintain discipline or conduct public business in an orderly fashion."

Click here for more info and scroll down for other important links on state-by-state comparisons of whistleblower protections.

- adapted from PEER

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