A 6-4 N.C. House committee vote this week killed a bill designed to give police officers stronger whistleblower protection.
Rep. Debra Conrad, a Winston-Salem Republican, had sponsored the legislation that would ban cities and towns from retaliating against officers who report illegal activity, fraud or “gross mismanagement” within their police department.
“When you have been given a reputation as a troublemaker, without protection under the Whistleblower Act, that is wrong,” said Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Raleigh Republican who co-sponsored the bill. “In all fairness, if we are thinking logically, we owe the same to our police officers.”
But organizations representing police chiefs and sheriffs opposed the proposal, saying it would open the door to costly lawsuits.
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“When you make it difficult to get bad officers out, not only will you jeopardize public safety, but you’ll jeopardize public finances,” said Eddie Caldwell of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.
Other opponents said the measure represented a step toward collective bargaining. “We have to decide whether we want to take a step toward union activity,” said Rep. John Faircloth, a High Point Republican.
No one spoke in favor of the bill at the public hearing. The Judiciary II meeting was hastily scheduled during a House dinner break as the crossover deadline loomed for legislation. An email notice was issued at 6:50 p.m. Wednesday announcing that the meeting would begin at 6:50 p.m.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t have a balanced debate form the public,” Conrad said. “I’m not a pro-union person. I see these as individual employees.”
But Rep. Dana Bumgardner, a Gastonia Republican, said lawsuits from ex-police officers could harm small towns with small budgets.
“There’s a lot of towns that have small police forces,” he said. “This could spell ruination for some of them, and sooner or later it will.”
The committee’s vote means the bill is dead for this session.