Raleigh, N.C. — The state House rejected a bill that would have extended the same whistle-blower protections enjoyed by state workers to city police officers and county deputies.
House Bill 643 was heard for the first time in a House judiciary committee on Wednesday morning. It came up for a House floor vote after 11 p.m. Wednesday.
"Whistle-blower protection has been the law for state employees since 1989," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.
State troopers, Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and other state employees are protected from being fired or facing other sanctions if they report malfeasance by supervisors.
The bill faced opposition from the North Carolina Sheriff's Association, which sent a Twitter message during the debate saying, "HB 643 infringes upon the right of Sheriffs to employ at will."
There is frequently turnover among top positions in a department when a new sheriff takes office.
Other opponents said that granting local law enforcement such protection would open the door to unions, or union-like groups, having more influence.
"We do not need people coming in with pseudo-unions trying to take over our local police departments," said Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford. Faircloth is a former police chief.
Backers of the bill said police officers should be encouraged to report when they see something wrong.
"They (officers) face somewhat of a unique situation," said Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake. "If they ever get fired for whatever reason, their career is pretty much ruined."
Officers who blow the whistle on superiors could be "black-listed" without protections, she said.
"How true does the report of some kind of defalcation covered by this bill have to be?" Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, asked Dollar. "How do you prevent a false charge from being made, for instance?"
Dollar said the measure does require the report to be factual in order for the protections to apply.
The measure failed on a 56-54 vote. Lawmakers reconsidered the vote and put it back in committee, but the measure is likely dead for the legislative session.