State Auditor Nicole Galloway is seeking to reestablish whistleblower protections that were done away with in a new controversial law. A bill lawmakers passed this year raises the standard to prove workplace discrimination and strips away protections for workers who report employer wrongdoing.
Proponents of the law say it’s meant to stimulate business activity and job creation by getting rid of burdensome regulations. Galloway claims it goes too far by putting public workers at risk. “Here is the state, we need a good business climate to create jobs and have good paying jobs,” said Galloway. “But that doesn’t mean we have to be unfriendly to workers and against working people.”
The contentious law is known as Senate Bill 43, which is at the center of a “travel advisory” issued by the NAACP. It passed with heavy support from the Republican dominated legislature. Auditor Galloway is the only Democrat to currently hold a statewide office.
The fact that the law increases the burden of proof on people claiming workplace discrimination is well established. It’s rollback of shielding for those who report wrongdoing has received less scrutiny.
The whistleblower stipulation applies to both private and public sector employees.
Galloway contends government workers who report wrongdoing would be left especially vulnerable. She points to an investigation by lawmakers this year in which they asked prison employees to point out indiscretions at the Department of Corrections after the agency became mired in a scandal.
“They are at risk of being retaliated against or being fired for going public at the invitation of the same legislators who passed the law eliminating their protections,” said Galloway. “It defies belief.”
A legislative committee was formed specifically to examine Department of Corrections’ practices after widespread corruption, harassment and intimidation was revealed by a newspaper report.
Galloway is proposing to reinsert whistleblower protections for public employees in a bill to be introduced in the next legislative session. In the near term, she’s offering to look at wrongdoing complaints by public employees through the Whistleblower Hotline by emailing or by calling 800-347-8597.
She says she also prepared an informational flyer that was sent to the state Office of Administration for distribution.
Galloway thinks the law is especially troubling because government employees are often to only people with direct knowledge of waste or illegal use of taxpayer dollars. “If they have the potential to lose their job, to be retaliated against, to be fired, it is much less likely that they will come forward and risk all of that to call out that type of wrongdoing. That creates secrecy.”
During a news conference with reporters Tuesday, Galloway also brought up an audit her office conducted which unearthed $65,000 dollars in missing funds in the southwest Missouri town of Carl Junction.
The city’s former municipal court clerk received a suspended sentence and a $40,000 fine this week after a judge first reported missing money. “Had he not come forward and blew that whistle, how long would that have gone on” Galloway said. “How much more money could potentially have been stolen.”
The new legislation proposed by Galloway, the Public Employee Whistleblower Act, would amend current law to reinstate protections for both state and local public employees. It would also provide protections for public employees to report misconduct to prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and the public media.
Galloway claims the proposal would not only return protections for public employees, but would be one of the strongest such laws in the country. Senator Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) and House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) are planning to file the bill for the upcoming legislative session.
Schupp thinks it’s important for the protections to be reinstated. “This legislation would encourage good behavior in our public institutions by granting protection for those who speak out against waste and wrongdoing,” Schupp said. “State employees should not have to fear the risk of retaliation when they stand up for the good of our state.”
McCann Beatty says she doesn’t want employees to be harmed for exposing wrong doing. “Auditor Galloway’s proposed fix to state law will help protect dedicated public employees who do what is necessary to hold government accountable.”
The law limiting whistleblower protection for both public and private sector workers went into effect Monday.