States Strengthening Their Whistleblower Laws
Red and Blue States See Whistleblowers as Tool for Cutting Waste and Fraud
Washington, DC — Across the country, states are steadily expanding and improving their legal protections for state employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse, according to a new analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In 2010, ten states measurably strengthened whistleblower protections while in 2011 another ten states have already done so.
Since 2006, when PEER first rated state disclosure laws, more than 40 states have broadened or toughened their whistleblower laws. No state has weakened or repealed a whistleblower law.
The most dramatic changes during 2011 came in three states, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Tennessee, which adopted an array of provisions to, among other things, 1) expand the type of issues (such as waste of funds) on which employees may make protected disclosures; 2) lengthen the time period for filing complaints of retaliation; and 3) shift the burden of proof back to the employing agency once the employee has made his or her initial case. All of these changes remove legal obstacles for whistleblowers to safely report wrongdoing or successfully combat official harassment after they have blown the whistle. At the same time, states such as Arizona, Kansas and Nevada adopted minor improvements.
“Cash-strapped states see whistleblowers as protectors of taxpayers’ pocketbooks,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass, who compiled the state legislation updates. “This trend transcends red and blue state divisions – whistleblower protection has become a non-partisan, good government issue.”
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 stalling federal whistleblower reform legislation 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 truly breaking new ground in providing safe channels for reporting problems and extending enforceable civil rights against reprisal to those who do so,” added Douglass. “These experiments appear to show that states benefit from greater transparency and that strong whistleblower laws pose no threat to the efficient administration of the people’s business.”
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.