Shank proposes bill to protect whistleblowers

March 21, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A prison employee's demotion inspired a "whistleblower" protection bill sponsored by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Shank said an officer at a Washington County state prison wrote him and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, an e-mail with broad complaints about his workplace, such as poor morale.

As a result, the officer's promotion was revoked, Shank said, declining to name the officer.

His bill, heard Monday by the House Appropriations Committee, adds new safeguards to protect state employees who speak out.

They would be allowed to comment on "misuse of public resources," in addition to other abuses or dangers described in the current whistleblower law.

They may not be punished or threatened with punishment for being part of an employee organization or for taking part - or refusing to take part - in political activities while off-duty.


Employees who speak out - the bill doesn't set limits on how or to whom - can't face a loss of job, have pay or benefits withheld, be transferred or reassigned or be demoted for exercising that right.

Violating the whistleblower protections would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

Larry D. Kump, the president of the Maryland Classified Employees Association's Public Safety Non-Custody Employees Chapter, testified in favor of the bill.

During a phone interview Tuesday, Kump called it "a good governance bill" supporting state employees "who have the grit" to speak out, assuming they don't breach confidentiality or security.

The experience that the demoted officer had is not isolated, Kump said. Just like at most places of business, "people are reluctant to stick their head out of the foxhole," he said.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, in particular, "really (doesn't) like people to make waves," Kump said.

His MCEA chapter represents a few hundred prison employees statewide who are not correctional officers, he said.

The bill calls for employees to file official complaints or grievances first, then wait 30 days before speaking out further.

According to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal and policy note on the bill, the state's equal employment opportunity office investigated four whistleblower complaints in fiscal year 2006, five in fiscal 2005 and four in fiscal 2004.

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