Important Senate Bill Restoring Protections for Whistleblowers Stalls on Senate Floor
JEFFERSON CITY, MO (STL.News) Unfortunately, corruption is a persistent problem in the world and if often seeded in human nature, with greed, ambition, and a desire for power being the psychological forces driving it. Many institutional forces, like bad governance, lack of transparency, and inadequacies all contribute to it.
While it alone is not a solution, whistleblowing is an important means used to improve governance and create ethically and legally healthy organizations and governments. It is essential in exposing scams, mismanagement and other wrongdoing that threatens public health and safety, financial integrity, human rights, the environment and the rule of law.
A significant Missouri Senate Bill aimed at ending corruption by strengthening a powerful anti-corruption tool has stalled on the Senate floor. Senate Bill 786, sponsored by Senator Jill Schupp, D – Creve Coeur, would create the “Missouri Whistleblower Protection Act,” restoring protections to public employees who disclose information regarding a violation of law, mismanagement, or waste of funds within a state agency.
“When there’s wrongdoing in a government agency or office, the best way and sometimes the only way to find out about it is if somebody blows the whistle,” said Schupp.
In addition, under this legislation, if the misconduct alleged by a public employee involves the taking and spending of public funds, the employee may request an investigation by the state auditor.
The bill is a reversal of Senate Bill 43 signed into law last year by Governor Greitens, which requires workers who claim discrimination in wrongful-termination suits to prove that bias was the explicit reason they were fired. The current standard had required only that dismissed workers prove that bias merely was a contributing factor.
Senate Bill 43 also made changes to Missouri’s whistleblower laws — removing protections for state employees — and limiting punitive damages for victims of workplace discrimination. It also says managers and other executive employees whose job it is to report misconduct or provide their professional opinions also can’t sue if they’re fired for whistleblowing.
“With all of the questions surrounding Governor Greitens on the issues of ethics and corruption, it’s incredibly disappointing that a Republican Senator would block legislation protecting whistleblowers that expose government wrongdoing,” said Schupp. “Missourians deserve a better and more transparent government than the one we’ve seen from this Governor and his legislative allies,” she added.
Last year, complaints about the care of patients at the St. Louis Veterans Home sparked multiple investigations. Workers questioned were hesitant to step forward and report issues out of fear of retaliation. Schupp, who is also a Missouri Veterans commissioner, says if the state legislature would not have passed Senate bill 43 last year, the facility’s employees would have been shielded from retaliation.
Senate Bill 786 was approved in mid-February by the Missouri Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but when it was brought up on the Senate floor for debate, it was shut down by Senator Bill Eigel (R) St. Charles County, choosing to read a book instead. Senator Schupp was then asked to lay the bill over so we could move on to the next order of business.
So for now, public employees and state or local government workers who decide to do the right thing by blowing the whistle on wrongdoing will remain at greater risk of being retaliated against or fired.