Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Senate Passes Whistleblower Act

Once again the state Senate has passed a bill (SB96) to protect government employees from being retaliated against for reporting official wrongdoing.

Bill sponsor Sen. Sue Wilson-Beffort said that had the bill been in effect a few years ago, the ill-fated $90 million investment by the Education Retirement Fund with the Vanderbilt company -- which now is the center of a pay-to-play lawsuit filed by former ERB investment officer Frank Foy -- might have never happened.

Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque said the bill was long overdue. Federal employees have such protections, she said. State and local government employees deserve it also.

The bill passed 38-2 with Sens. Michael Sanchez and Phil Griego dissenting. Sanchez argued that the bill has a potentially large financial impact on the court system and should have gone to the Finance Committee. Griego expressed concerns about protecting people who file frivolous suits.

The bill now goes to the House, which has passed similar measures in recent years.

Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed a similar bill in 2007.

UPDATE: Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos just emailed to say one of the reasons for that 2007 veto was because the bill called for unlimited punitive damage.

But apparently that won't be a problem this year.

Gallegos said the governor is backing a House whistleblower bill, HB165 sponsored by Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. The fiscal impact report says the House bill is identical to the one that passed the Senate.