Lawmakers announce desire to update Ohio whistleblower laws

Calling companies out can be a scary processĀ for employees trying to keep a job

COLUMBUS (WKBN) - According to State Representatives Jack Cera and Kathleen Clyde, Ohio has some of the weakest whistleblower laws in the nation.

“We shouldn’t be the 47th state in the country in what we offer to protect people who are trying to stand up for what is right,” Clyde said.

The pair was provided the information by the Legislative Services Commission, the organization that works on behalf of lawmakers to research and draft legislation. It indicated Ohio last updated its whistleblower laws a couple of decades ago.

Cera, who has been a longtime lawmaker, has seen the good and bad of state government.

“I’ve been around here when there’s been bipartisan corruption in the '80s and '90s that has been called out and I’ve spoken up against that when it was my own party,” he said.

Now Cera is concerned about things like the scandal surrounding the now defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) online charter school and the Department of Administrative Services giving no-bid contracts with what he described as little to no oversight, costing the state tens of millions of dollars.

“I’m about one thing and I don’t care what party you’re in. When you’re ripping off the taxpayers, you need to be called out for it,” Cera said.

The problem is, calling them out can be a scary process for employees just trying to keep a job.

Ohio’s whistleblower laws are not as strong as most other states'. Cera and Clyde want to bolster them so more employees feel safe bringing to light wrongdoing without having to fear retaliation that could cost them and their family dearly.

The bill they announced Thursday addresses five areas -- simplifying the process of reporting, broadening the coverage of protections for reporting, providing for greater protection against retaliation, establishing a reasonable time period to address retaliation claims and coming up with better remedies for retaliation against the whistleblower and the costs associated with coming forward.

“New legislation to upgrade Ohio’s whistleblower protections could make Ohio a top state in weeding out waste and fraud and protecting those who speak out for what is right,” Clyde said.

Under current law, employees of ECOT and the Department of Administrative Services did not feel it was safe enough for them to keep their job or their livelihood and bring to light what was happening in those situations.

Cera and Clyde do not view this as a partisan issue and hope to garner enough support across the aisle to get the bill started this fall.

Cera went so far as to say he would be willing to step down as joint primary sponsor if a Republican would like to step up and take his place to make the bill a bipartisan effort.

If the bill fails to complete its legislative journey, Cera and Clyde said the hearings the bill does get will be useful in restarting it quicker once the new General Assembly begins in January.

Clyde is running for Secretary of State this November.

The legislative aid for her opponent, State Senator Frank LaRose, said the senator has not yet had an opportunity to review the bill because it has not been introduced. Only after he reads the specific language of the bill can he form an opinion on it.

With that said, his aid did say LaRose has supported the concept of protecting whistleblowers in the past.

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