Whistleblower bill passes 1st test in state legislature
April 19, 2016
Steamboat Springs — A bill that aims to encourage more government employees to blow the whistle on mismanagement and other malfeasance narrowly passed the Colorado House of Representatives on Tuesday.
It will soon face another test in the Senate.
The bill, from state Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, would give city, county and school district employees in Colorado the same whistleblower protections state employees currently enjoy.
That means if such employees feel they have been retaliated against for blowing the whistle and publicly reporting improprieties, they would be able to more easily file a complaint and receive restitution.
The bill passed the House 35-30.
Supporters of the bill questioned why employees of local and county governments have not enjoyed the same whistleblower protections as state employees. They say more protections from retaliation could lead to greater disclosures of such things as violations of laws, waste or misuse of public funds, abuse of authority or dangers to the health and safety of the public.
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But the Grand Junction Sentinel reported some House members were concerned the bill could harm local governments when dealing with a “disgruntled employee” who doesn’t agree with a negative performance evaluation.
“There’s too many stories of somebody having a bad performance evaluation during a whistleblowing incident,” Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, said when the bill was considered in committee. “I believe we should have our school districts free to make sure they can have proper performance evaluations without fear of threat.
The Sentinel reported Saine unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to address that concern.
Kagan told Steamboat Today that, under current law, local government employees who feel they have been retaliated against for disclosing government malfeasance must bring a suit in federal court claiming their First Amendment rights have been violated.
“The fact is, that’s untenable for most people to make a federal case out of it every time they are victims of retaliation,” Kagan told Steamboat Today.
Under his bill, Kagan said, local government employees who feel they have been retaliated against for exposing malfeasance would be able to file a complaint with an administrative law judge within 90 days.
The judge would then either dismiss the complaint if it were found not to be credible or make an award, ranging from reinstatement for someone who’s been fired to damages.
If the judge were to rule against the employee, the employee would be able to take his or her case to district court.
Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, voted in favor of Kagan’s bill.
“I think people who are whistleblowers do need protections,” Mitsch Bush said.