By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation designed to improve the protections to whistle-blowers in government agencies has passed the House unanimously and is now scheduled to go before the Senate, a local lawmaker said Thursday.
Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is the lead sponsor in House Bill 2006, which increases the penalties for violating the West Virginia Whistle-Blower Law. Under the revision, an employer or a person “under color” of an employer’s authority who violates the law would be personally fined up to $5,000, according to the amended code. The current fine is $500. Under House Bill 2006, a violator could lose his or her job instead of being suspended for up to six months.
“It passed the House (Wednesday),” Shott said between committee meetings in Charleston. “Part of the themes we’re trying to develop while we’re up here is to rebuild confidence for the public in the government and the legislative process.”
Improving transparency and accountablility in government is one of the bill’s goals, Shott said. The bill would provide additional protections for whistle-blowers who reveal wrongdoing in goverment. A law has been in place since 1988, but H.B. 2006 strengthens the protections by making the consequences more unpleasant for people who try to retalitate against whistle-blowers.
The bill is designed to protect public employees, Shott stated. House Bill 2006 is broadly written and includes employees at all levels of government including county commissions, city boards and county boards of education.
If the Senate does not change anything in H.B. 2006, it will go to Gov. Jim Justice for signing; however, the legislation will return to the House if the Senate wants any changes, he said.
Most legislation goes into effect 90 days after it is passed, Shott said. If the bill receives an expedited date, it could go into effect sooner, but this would require 80 percent approval in both the House and the Senate.
“It was a unanimous vote in the House. Hopefully it will be overwhelming in the Senate,” Shott said.
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