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Bullock vetoes whistleblower bill

HELENA —Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed HB 202 on March 2. The House of Representatives was out of town on a mid-session break at the time.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kirk Wagoner, would add protections for public workers who report “matters of public concern” to the legislature. It received bipartisan support in the House and Senate, according to Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen.

According to a press release, Wagoner had heard accounts of public employees being retaliated against because they chose to speak out about waste or abuse within agencies.

“This bill is one of two whistleblower protection bills that I introduced this session after seeing a serious need to strengthen and protect the First Amendment rights of public employees against retaliation in the form of demotion, harassment or termination after shining light on agency wrongdoing or matters of public concern,” Wagoner stated in the press release.

In a letter to Knudsen, Bullock explained that he vetoed the bill because the language was “too broad” and that an existing law provides a process for state employees to report waste, fraud and abuse to legislators, “and protects them when they do so.”

“The bill will lead to frivolous and costly litigation,” Bullock wrote. “Disgruntled employees could use the overbroad language of the bill to file meritless claims against supervisors.”

Knudsen said in the press release that it was “incredibly disappointing” that Bullock turned his back on workers while allowing protections for retaliation to continue, but Bullock has another chance to protect the rights of workers with HB 208, the second bill introduced by Wagoner.

HB 208 provides protections against retaliation of state employees who, in good faith, allege waste, fraud or abuse within an agency.

The bill passed the House with amendments after its third reading and is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee. No action was taken last week.

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