Lawmakers from both parties are looking to increase protections for government whistle-blowers this session as a way to make government less corrupt and more responsive.
State Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Greenwood Village, introduced House Bill 1078 that grants, county, municipal and school district employees the right to go to an administrative law judge if they are disciplined for revealing a violation of the law, fraud, waste of resources, mismanagement or a danger to students, employees or the public.
“The whistle-blower protection we afford to state employees doesn’t extend to other government employees,” he told Watchdog.org. “That is wrong and against the public interest.”
Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, is proposing Senate Bill 56, which prohibits disciplinary action against employees who disclose secret information to the attorney general, legislative legal services or the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline.
The measures will likely face opposition from government officials.
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Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the association of cities plans to oppose Kagan’s bill because there are already federal protections for employees and many home-rule cities have their own whistle-blower protections.
“The way it is written is extraordinarily vague and very broad,” Bommer said.
Bommer said similar bills were introduced 15 years ago and didn’t make it into law. He said CML asked Kagan to remove municipalities, but he declined.
“The legislation doesn’t make a lot of sense because they haven’t articulated that the problem exists at the local level,” he said.
Kagan said he disagrees the only recourse for employees should be federal and that whistle-blower protection is not a personnel matter so home-rule wouldn’t interfere with a statewide justice issue.
“They want employees who have been retaliated against to make a federal case of it, but it’s not always possible or practical for someone who suffers retaliation to find a remedy in the federal courts,” he said, adding it will be cheaper to take it in front of administrative law judges.
Kagan said another benefit of the legislation is that it will help provide statistics of government malfeasance by tracking the complaints before administrative law judges.
The bill wasn’t prompted by a specific incident or complaint from local employees, but it is supported by the Colorado Education Association, Kagan said, because teachers regularly see problems they’re afraid to report.
Kagan’s bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Local Government Committee Wednesday, and Lambert’s bill is up for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee the same afternoon.