Senate Bill 151 shows how differently two legislative chambers can view a issue. This anti-corruption measure, creating new provisions for reporting and investigating public corruption, breezed through the House with less than a handful of nays, yet it barely got out of the Senate alive, passing Friday 18–17.
During the floor debate (timestamp 5:35:20), Senator Lance Russell pointed out that SB 151 actually makes it harder for citizens to bring complaints against public officials than it is to bring complaints against other criminals. Senator Russell, a former state’s attorney, said a normal complaint just requires contacting the police and maybe filling out a form, while SB 151 requires complainants to file a sworn affidavit.
Senator Stace Nelson, who like Russell has some law enforcement experience, noted that Section 3 requires folks complaining to the Division of Criminal Investigation of fraud, bribery, and violations of gift limits to send a copy of their affidavit to the person about whom they are complaining.
One of the highest levels of information when I was an NCIS agent in our manual was we were to treat anonymous complaints, anonymous informants, with the highest of credibility. I didn’t always understand that as a young agent, but I can tell you that in my experience, often times those folks who provided the anonymous information had a lot of motivation to do so, and they often times did so with great trepidation.What we’re trying to do here, I think, we’re defeating the actual cause of it. If our intent is to combat corruption in our state government, requiring someone to come forward and provide that information and identify themselves to the person they’re providing information on is contrary, as my good seat mate pointed out, to good law enforcement practices. I think it’s important that these witnesses have identity protection and allow their information to come forward and be vetted on the merits of the complaint not on who’s providing it, and definitely not making them a target for retaliation.
Robbery and rape victims aren’t required to notify their robbers and rapists that they are speaking to the police. Is there a good reason for SB 151 to require corruption whistleblowers to contact the subjects of their complaints?
Supporters of SB 151 may point to House Bill 1052, cheered and signed by the Governor, which purports to protect public employees from retaliation from their superiors for reporting corruption. However, HB 1052 offers no protection to journalists, private investigators, and other private citizens who may get wind of corruption and want to report it to the authorities.
With SB 151, legislators seem to be holding those who would challenge their sterling reputations to a higher, riskier standard than those who would complain about criminal activity by other, lesser beings. The close Senate vote on SB 151 indicates that many Senators share Russell’s and Nelson’s recognition that SB 151 doesn’t tackle corruption as seriously as it ought.