Statement on SB 299, Amending the Whistleblower Protection Act
Senator Jacob Candelaria recently introduced SB 299 for consideration this Legislative Session, a bill that amends key portions of the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Whistleblower Protection Act has been critical in protecting people in the state who have the courage to speak out about government corruption. While it is not clear what prompted this legislation, New Mexico Ethics Watch is greatly concerned that SB 299 would undermine key parts of the Act. There is nothing in the bill that broadens or improves the Whistleblower Protection Act – the bill’s sole aim is to narrow it.
Sen. Candelaria’s bill would:
- remove contractors from the protection of the Act,
- narrow the definition of what constitutes a retaliatory action,
- remove malfeasance by a public officer as something that can be considered under the Act,
- raise the standard for a waste of funds under the Act,
- remove abuse of authority from the protections of the Act,
- narrow the protections for retaliation under the Act,
- remove the requirement that an employee who has been retaliated against be reinstated to his or her prior seniority, and replaces it with a far weaker, and more limited, discretionary reinstatement,
- make it easier for a public employer to defend against claims under the Act,
- raise the bar for when the Act can come into effect, and
- add a major barrier to access to the courts to protect whistleblowers’ rights.
SB 299 bill cripples the protections afforded to public sector employees and contractors in the state who want to ensure that the public’s money is spent appropriately and that public officials are acting ethically. Douglas Carver, Executive Director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, said, “At a time when the people of New Mexico are crying out for ethics reform, this bill represents a leap backwards.”
Phil Davis, Board Secretary of NMEW noted, “This bill will result in greater freedom for employers to intimidate and retaliate against those who speak out on matters of public concern.”
Carver concluded, “We urge Sen. Candelaria to withdraw this bill. If he does not, we hope the Senate Public Affairs Committee tables SB 299 when it appears before them.”