The Senate voted unanimously Friday to pass a bill from Sen. Mike Carrell that lets whistle blowers provide information to state ethics investigators without fear of being identified publicly. It also has provisions to punish any supervisor who retaliates with at least a reprimand and potentially a 30-day suspension and civil fines of up to $5,000.
Carrell, a Republican senator from Lakewood, says that two whistle blowers at the Department of Corrections – whom he is not publicly identifying – suffered retaliation after bringing wrongdoing to light by a supervisor.
“One has already left the agency because of things that were done to her. The other … had an exemplary record … and was put on the graveyard shift and has remained there,” Carrell said after the vote.
After the 47-to-0 vote, Senate Bill 5577 now goes to the House for consideration.
The bill also has provisions to make a supervisor’s knowing acquiescence in an underling’s wrongdoing into an ethical violation that can be prosecuted by the Executive Ethics Board, which has jurisdiction over executive office holders and rank and file employees in general-government agencies and higher education.
In a news release, Carrell said:
Similar ethics-law violations have come to light at the state Emergency Management Division at Camp Murray as well. This is a big problem that has been ignored for a long time and I’m pleased to be able to do something about it with so much bipartisan support. The bill has been heavily worked in committee and on the floor which is a good sign for action over in the House.”
Prompting Carrell’s crusade to tighten ethics law was the case of Belinda Stewart, a Department of Corrections manager who, according to a state Executive Ethics Board finding last month, improperly used state resources on behalf of a federal corrections agency and a nonprofit group that helps former prison inmates.
Carrell had long been frustrated in his bid to bring to light the illegal use of state resources by a Corrections manager, whose own supervisors he felt were covering for her actions.
Jordan Schrader of the News Tribune reported here on the alleged wrongdoing and fine issued last month:
A communications and outreach director for the agency when the investigation into her nonprofit work began in 2011, Stewart was transferred last fall to new responsibilities over prison visitation, volunteers, and matters of gender and religion. The Executive Ethics Board fined Stewart $17,000, with $3,600 suspended, according to a copy of the decision Sen. Mike Carrell posted on his legislative website. The Lakewood Republican wrote in an e-mail to constituents that the fine was too lenient. The board found Stewart failed to get DOC approval for outside employment as the instructor of a “new warden” class for the federal National Institute of Corrections, with topics such as “ethics and integrity.” It paid $2,800 a year plus $1,200 for expenses. Stewart took leave from her state job to do the trainings, but investigators found 576 items related to the class stored in an e-mail folder on her work computer. “These activities involved the use of state resources for the private benefit or gain of Ms. Stewart,” the board wrote.
Carrell’s bill offers protections against disclosure to whistle blowers even if the complaint is dismissed.