The three Democrats on the Senate Oversight Committee have approved a bill that would offer new protection for whistleblowers in state government. It also would impose new rules for the so-called “blacklisting” of former state workers and expand the governor’s executive order barring confidential settlements with laid off workers to include the legislative and judicial branches of state government.
“I believe that the legislation before us does a good of trying to tackle some of the issues or many of the issues that have come before our committee,” Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said during Wednesday afternoon’s committee meeting.
Senator Julian Garrett of Indianola, one of two Republicans on the senate committee, said the bill has a major flaw.
“It continues to allow the state to conceal the real reasons for a person’s termination,” Garrett said.
Senator Sandy Greiner of Washington, the other Republican on the panel, agreed.
“I’m gravely concerned about the fact that you’re not putting anything in the bill about exposing why state employees have been released,” Greiner said.
The Republican-led House has endorsed the idea of opening personnel records so the public can find out why state workers have been dismissed. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said that was left out of the Senate Democrats’ bill because it would expose the state to defamation lawsuits.
“It’s really difficult for an employer, even the state, to state that an employee was fired with cause for, you know, theft because unless there was a clear pursuit of due process and everything was handled perfectly, one of these scheister attorneys will come in and sue you…even in a situation like that,” McCoy said.
McCoy, who works in human resources in the private sector, said that’s why most private companies will only reveal a former employee’s dates of employment and their job title when someone calls to ask about that employee.
Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican who has a law degree, has asked legislators to open state personnel records so Iowans can learn why state employees were fired. Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock accuses Democrats of bowing to the wishes of state employee unions which oppose the idea.