Washington, DC — Across the nation, states continue to broaden and improve legal protections for public employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse, according to a new analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). So far in 2012, five states have toughened whistleblower laws for public employees and contract workers.
In the prior two years, another 20 states enacted stronger whistleblower laws. Since 2006, when PEER first rated state disclosure laws, nearly half of all states have widened or enhanced their whistleblower laws. No state has weakened or repealed a whistleblower law.
During 2012, two states, Minnesota and New Jersey, added laws to address waste and fraud. Minnesota became the 20th state to adopt a qui tam or whistleblower bounty law, allowing individuals to share in recoveries from contractors who defraud the state. New Jersey expanded its law to protect state workers who disclose waste of public funds. Two other states, Illinois and Maryland, extended new whistleblower safeguards to employees of firms contracting with the state.
“State lawmakers increasingly see whistleblowers as tools to help them root out waste and fraud,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass, who compiled the state legislation updates. “This trend toward stronger state whistleblower laws shows no sign of abating.”
PEER has completed a detailed analysis (displayed on its website) of every state’s laws, ranking each on 32 factors affecting the scope of coverage, usefulness and strength of remedies. By these measures, California, the District of Columbia and Tennessee have the strongest whistleblower laws while Georgia, Indiana and South Dakota have the weakest.
“In their role as laboratories for democracy, states are developing new strategies for making public business transparent and shielding those who report problems against reprisal,” added Douglass. “These experiments appear to show that strong whistleblower laws reinforce efficient and effective government.”
As a result of this trend, many states now afford their employees stronger statutory shields than those covering federal workers. Due to a continuing Congressional stalemate, federal whistleblower reform legislation has been stalled for more than a dozen years. Safeguards available in several states that are denied to federal civil servants include statutory shields for government scientists confronting suppression or manipulation of technical findings; “anti-gag” provisions forbidding non-disclosure orders; and several states allow whistleblowers the option of a jury trial, a legal route largely foreclosed to federal workers.
“States are leading the way on protecting whistleblowers while the federal government seems to be stuck in the mud,” Douglass concluded.