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Whistle-blower protection bill closer to passage

By Kristen Roberts
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 22, 2000
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PHOENIX-Despite the protest of a Tucson legislator, the state House yesterday gave preliminary approval to an amended measure granting protection to university whistle-blowers.

"I think the whole thing is just a disaster," Rep. Marion Pickens, D-Tucson, said of the bill. The bill moved forward with a 27-9 vote.

Pickens said she thinks the basis of the bill - which aims to protect whistle-blowers - is good, but it is not the place of the legislature to tell the Arizona Board of Regents how to alter its grievance processes.

"What we're trying to do is address any kind of corruption," said Rep. Debra Brimhall, R-Snowflake. She called employees "inside sources."

The bill essentially prohibits the university from retaliating against someone who has disclosed or who may disclose illegal or wasteful activity, outlines the process for disclosures and provides relief if a whistle-blower's rights are violated.

The amended bill requires the universities to post their whistle-blower policies so employees know their rights.

The bill:

  • protects an employee who refuses to comply with an illegal order, or who is even thought to be prepared to make a written or verbal disclosure of "a matter of public concern." The bill outlines the procedure for disclosures.

  • requires the employee to have only a "reasonable good faith belief" that corruption is occurring, not the "ability to prove the reported misconduct actually occurred." Corruption includes violations of laws, mismanagement, gross waste of money or endangerment of public safety.

  • broadens the category of official actions that may be seen as retribution to include recommending or threatening to take "any discriminatory action," such as failure to evaluate performance, reassignment, failure to promote, psychiatric examination, excessive investigations, or making discriminatory pay or program funding decisions.

  • provides "any relief necessary" for victims of retribution.

  • establishes the procedure for hearings, including pre-hearing discovery, and compensates employees for time spent in whistle-blower proceedings.

  • expands protection to university job applicants and retired employees.

If the bill passes another House vote, it will go to a conference committee that will eliminate the differences between it and the Senate bill. The final bill will be sent to the House and Senate for a concluding vote.

In other business last week:

  • the Senate confirmed Christina Palacios as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, without discussion.

  • the House unanimously passed a bill adding a second, non-voting regent to the Board.

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