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Whistleblowers need protection, not red tape

Whistleblower laws protect all of us against government corruption. They allow workers to tell the truth without fear of retaliation when government officials are misbehaving in ways that put our families in danger and our community at risk. Senate Bill 299 puts this important way of holding our government accountable at risk. It essentially eviscerates the provisions that encourage workers to tell the truth rather than remaining complicit and quiet when corruption is happening behind our backs.

Instead of making it easier for workers to reveal the truth to the public, the bill makes it harder, thus making it less likely that we, the public, will ever learn about corrupt activities happening in our own government. The bill would create additional steps workers must go through before they are allowed to bring cases against corrupt government officials. It would require workers to exhaust all administrative remedies – essentially causing complaints of government corruption to be caught up in bureaucracy – before a case can ever be brought before our courts. Furthermore, the bill would require that the grievance procedures under the Human Rights Act must first be followed. But the Human Rights Act deals with discrimination cases, and most whistleblower and corruption cases have nothing to do with discrimination. They are usually about fraud, embezzlement and sweeping dangers to our community under the rug.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque and the bill’s sponsor, has stated that SB 299 would help reduce “the cost and stress and anxiety of litigation.” But the real result is that it would stop litigation. Workers would no longer have protection from retaliation by their corrupt employers as they would be caught in the bureaucracy of administrative claims that can take months with no satisfactory result. And the people who are accused of corruption would have time to clean up and cover up their acts before they ever have to face litigation. As we have seen time and again, litigation is how the public finds out the truth and gets change that protects our families and our community. This bill would put a stop to that important truth-finding.

Supplementing existing law by creating channels of administrative relief for all whistleblowers is a worthy objective. Future legislation aimed at this goal could easily win enthusiastic support from representatives of workers’ rights and employers’ interests alike. But it has to be done right, with meaningful protections that encourage workers to come forward and tell the truth, rather than push them and their secrets into a dark corner. Public workers who “blow the whistle” on wrongdoing take enormous personal and professional risks. In doing so they perform a courageous service of incalculable value to the people of New Mexico. The people’s representatives in the Legislature must safeguard the rights of the people of New Mexico to know what is happening in our government and protect the workers who have the courage to come forward and tell the truth. Senate Bill 299 should be defeated.