By Erich R. Ebel
Gov. Jay Inslee has signed several landmark bills sponsored by Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, within the past week. One is designed to protect public-employee whistleblowers from retaliation, another will begin the process of reforming the state’s mental-health system and a third will help protect the privacy of those who search state-licensing records.
Senate Bill 5182 – signed Tuesday – prohibits the state Department of Licensing from disclosing personal information about someone who requests license-related information, beyond whether the requesting party is an attorney or private investigator. State law now allows people to learn more detail about those who have requested information about them; Carrell says that can be dangerous for private investigators and attorneys who have legitimate reasons for accessing the information since the people being investigated are often felons who do not want to be found. Because many private investigators and attorneys work out of their homes, a person upset about being investigated or sued could obtain the private investigator’s or attorney’s home address, presenting serious safety concerns.
On Friday the governor signed Senate Bill 5282 , which has to do with verifying a person’s eligibility to possess a firearm. It directs DOL to convene a work group that will explore ways to provide such verifications more accurately and efficiently by consolidating statewide data on people who have been involuntarily committed.
“Reforming the state’s mental-health system has been one of my top priorities this session and I’m very pleased to see this bill become law,” Carrell said. “Creating a comprehensive, statewide mental-health database is the ultimate goal, but an essential component of that is law enforcement’s ability to access a complete list of individuals who should be prevented from owning firearms due to a mental illness.”
Last Wednesday the governor signed Senate Bill 5577 allowing the state Executive Ethics Board to designate an independent employee or representative from the state attorney general’s office to assist with any managerial investigations. It also requires each state agency to designate an ethics advisor to provide informal ethics advice and requires that ethics advisor to ensure uniformity in the agency’s compliance with ethics law.
“This is the result of more than two years of efforts after I was approached by several whistleblowers claiming they had evidence of wrongdoing,” Carrell added. “The employees who approached me claimed a manager with the state Department of Corrections was misusing her authority and acting in an unethical manner. When confronted, these whistleblowers reported being demoted, transferred or denied promotion due to their complaints.
“This new law is a victory for them and for any public employee who wants to do the right thing without fear of retaliation,” Carrell said.
Also under the measure, ethics advisors will receive formal training from the ethics board and state officers and agencies are encouraged to provide ethics training every three years thereafter.
Additionally, Carrell’s measure will also provide whistleblower protections to state employees who file ethics complaints and install financial penalties for any retaliation against the employee, as well as exempt from public disclosure the identity of any state employee who files an ethics complaint.
The laws created by Carrell’s bills will take effect on July 27.