By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates voted unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 15 to increase the penalties for retaliating against a public employee who blows the whistle on government wrongdoing or waste.
West Virginia has had a whistleblower law on the books since 1988, but House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said more could be done to protect public employees who point out wrongdoing. Shott introduced a bill that would increase the penalty for supervisors or public officials who retaliate against a whistleblower from a maximum fine of $500 to a fine of $5,000. The fine also would be paid personally by the person or people found to have retaliated, not by the government body.
Under the existing law, a judge could suspend a public employee for up to six months if the employee was found to have retaliated against another public employee. But Shott said the law had no provision for elected officials who retaliated against whistleblowers.
In the case of an elected official found to have retaliated against a public employee, a judge’s finding of retaliation would be grounds for removal from office, Shott said.
“This is a really good bill,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia. “We have a whistleblower law, but this puts some teeth in it.”
The bill passed 98-0, with two delegates absent. The bill will be sent to the state Senate for further consideration.