New whistleblower protections signed into law

Vermont whistleblowers will be afforded new protections in Vermont starting July 1.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed H.863 into law Wednesday. When it takes effect this summer, whistleblowers who report suspicions of waste, fraud and abuse in public systems will be more secure in their anonymity.

State Auditor Doug Hoffer requested the legislation, saying he felt the wording of existing whistleblower protections were not strong enough to protect against disclosure. Hoffer testified this spring to lawmakers that he felt stronger confidentiality statutes ultimately would improve transparency.

“We take the protection of whistleblowers very seriously,” Shumlin said in a news release. “Nevertheless, the possibility of public identification could have a chilling effect on reports of fraud or misconduct.” He said he wanted the public to feel secure about coming forward to report wrongdoing.

Hoffer thanked lawmakers and administration officials for bolstering the state’s whistleblower laws.

“It is no small thing to create another exemption to the public records act,” Hoffer said. “In this case, however, I think it serves the public interest since the goal is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of state government.”

Unless a whistleblower consents to the disclosure of his or her identity, any information that could be used to identify that person is kept secret.

The whistleblower provisions apply to anyone who alleges that a public agency, a public employee or official, or a public agency’s private contractor has broken the law; committed waste, fraud or abuse; or created a health or safety threat.

Hoffer’s office offers several ways to report suspicions of wrongdoing in a variety of areas. For more information, visit the reporting page on the auditor’s website, or call 877-290-1400.

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Hilary NilesHilary Niles

Comments

  1. Thomas Joseph :

    State Auditor Doug Hoffer deserves credit for taking the initiative to protect whistleblower rights. The next step, however, must be enacting a State of Vermont False Claims Act which 30 other states currently have. While whistleblower protections are important, the reality is that no whistleblower in Vermont currently has any legal standing to pursue a civil action to recover losses suffered by the State of Vermont at the present time.

    I wrote to Governor Peter Shumlin twice earlier this year by Certified Mail and asked him to join me in support of a State of Vermont False Claims Act and he has never responded. The failure of the Shumlin administration to make anti-fraud legislation a priority should give all Vermonters pause. However, when you reflect on the opportunistic ventures Mr. Shumlin has engaged in over time, you can understand why he might not want anti-fraud legislation to become law. For instance, instead of helping his Montpelier neighbor Jeremy Dodge obtain the necessary help to save his home, the Governor saw an opportunity to expand his real estate holdings and entered into transactions that would benefit him at the expense of his neighbor.

    At the present time, the State of Vermont faces significant shortfalls in funding for various initiatives. Because of this, the State of Vermont cannot afford to allow anyone to embezzle or steal our precious resources. Because of the Governor’s failure to support and champion a State of Vermont False Claims Act, he is literally rolling out the red carpet for the fraudsters who lurk to steal our states vital resources.

    Given the financial exposure to the State of Vermont given its lack of any anti-fraud law, the Governor should call a special session of the legislature to pass a comprehensive State of Vermont False Claims Act without delay.

  2. Sharon Stearns :

    Very exciting to have this pass! The next step is to have the state take punitive action against public officials of state and local governments who recommend not following or do not follow the law. This is a critical step that must not be overlooked to protect the state’s precious financial resources.

  3. Jed Guertin :

    Thank you Doug.

    More needs to be done for whistleblowers.

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