One in Five States Strengthened Whistleblower Laws This Year
Cash-Strapped States See Whistleblowers as Assets in Fighting Waste and Fraud
Washington, DC — During the past 12 months, ten states have measurably improved legal protections for state employees who blow the whistle, according to a new analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Many states now afford their employees stronger statutory shields than those covering federal workers, as a continuing Congressional stalemate has stalled federal whistleblower reform legislation for more than a decade.
The most dramatic changes came in two states, New Mexico and Vermont, which previously had the two weakest laws in the country. As a result of comprehensive legislation enacted in recent months, New Mexico now has the 4th strongest and Vermont, the 6th strongest, according to a rating scale devised by PEER. The other eight states making substantive expansions of whistleblower coverage in the past 12 months include Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Utah (these latter two states, however, still have among the weakest laws overall).
Since 2006, when PEER first rated state disclosure laws, more than 30 states have significantly broadened their whistleblower laws. Several states are breaking new ground and going beyond protections available to federal employees, including:
- Two states (Minnesota and Washington) now provide protection to government scientists confronting suppression or manipulation of technical findings. In March 2009, President Obama proposed safeguards for scientists but failed to implement the proposal;
- Today, 14 states have “anti-gag” provisions forbidding non-disclosure orders. Similar legislation is still pending in Congress; and
- Six states allow whistleblowers the option of a jury trial, a route largely foreclosed to federal workers. In addition, several states have procedural protections that are stronger than the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) whistleblower provisions.
“In just the last few years, the majority of states have passed greater protections for whistleblowers and not a single state has weakened whistleblower protection,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, who compiled the state legislation updates. “Even fiscally challenged states see whistleblowers as means to save scarce taxpayer dollars from being wasted or misused.”
PEER has completed a detailed analysis 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 Virginia, South Dakota and Georgia have the weakest.
“By contrast with the growing attention being paid by states, we are concerned that whistleblower protection does not appear to be a priority in the Obama administration,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The last time we heard the President speak to the importance of whistleblowers to an open democracy was when he addressed the Parliament of Ghana.”
See Progress at State Level
Compare Federal Inertia