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Introduced Version House Bill 2904 History

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hb2904 intr
H. B. 2904


          (By Delegates Kump, Canterbury, Faircloth, Rowan, Howell, Ambler, Folk, Romine and R. Smith)

          [Introduced March 12, 2013; referred to the
          Committee on Government Organization then Finance.]


A BILL to amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto a new article, designated §4-14-1, §4-14-2, §4-14-3, §4-14-4 and §4-14-5, all relating to the Office of State Employee Ombudsman; creating a State Employee Ombudsman; describing the qualifications of the State Employee Ombudsman; providing for powers and duties; specifying investigatory          powers; describing complaint procedures; requiring annual          reports; describing penalties for noncompliance; and allowing for enforcement.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
     That the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended by adding thereto a new article, designated §4-14-1, §4-14-2, §4-14-3, §4-14-4 and §4-14-5, all to read as follows:
ARTICLE 14. STATE EMPLOYEE OMBUDSMAN.
§4-14-1. Authority of State Employee Ombudsman; short title; purpose.
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(a) The West Virginia Legislature creates and establishes the Office of State Employee Ombudsman to act as an advisory office to the Legislature in order to provide oversight of executive branch employment issues. This article shall be known as the "State Employee Ombudsman Act".
_____(b) The State Employee Ombudsman is responsible for research, investigations, training and reporting on employment issues specific to the executive branch of state government. The State Employee Ombudsman shall make recommendations, provide training and produce reports pursuant to this article and as directed by the Joint Committee on Government and Finance in order to resolve complaints made against a public agency, department or person employed with public funds.
_____(c) The purpose of the State Employee Ombudsman is to serve as an impartial investigator and advocate for executive branch employees who request an investigation into employee issues in the executive branch of state government. The State Employee Ombudsman may investigate any office in the executive branch of state government or any person paid with public money, for compliance with any law, rule or policy related to employment issues.
§4-14-2. Qualifications of State Employee Ombudsman; office staff; toll free hotline.
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(a) A qualified State Employee Ombudsman shall be employed by the Joint Committee on Government and Finance. The State Employee Ombudsman appointed shall have the following minimum qualifications:
_____(1) Is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of West Virginia;
_____(2) (A) Have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university; or
_____(B) Has successfully completed a course on generally accepted government auditing standards;
_____(3) Has not been an officer of a political party for a minimum of one year prior to employment; and
_____(4) Has not held an elected political office for a minimum of one year prior to employment.
_____(b) The State Employee Ombudsman shall provide, operate and maintain a toll free anonymous hot line for the purpose of receiving complaints, referrals and information as necessary to carry out the provisions of this article. Referrals and information may be made in writing or provided anonymously except that a complaint, referral or information filed by an elected official or agency manager, director or department head must be made in writing and provide name, title and relevant contact information.
§4-14-3. Powers and duties; procedures; required training.
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(a) The State Employee Ombudsman has the authority to initiate and investigate complaints, referrals and information related to employment issues of executive branch employees. The State Employee Ombudsman may:
_____(1) Initiate investigations related to employment issues of executive branch employees as directed or based on information that may be received anonymously, telephonically, in writing or at the request of an appointed or elected officer of state government;
_____(2) Report and make recommendations to the Legislature, the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, the Commission on Special Investigations, the Ethics Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board or to law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys, as appropriate, in order to resolve an issue or violation of law, rule or policy; and
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(3) Compel an agency, department, office, board, commission or other public or quasi-public entity in this state, including a contractor paid with public funds, to produce any records and documents for inspection as requested. Upon request of the State Employee Ombudsman pursuant to an officially recognized investigation, an agency, department, office, board, commission or other public or quasi-public entity in this state, including a contractor paid with public funds, shall provide access to all records.
_____(b) The State Employee Ombudsman shall:
_____(1) Keep accurate records of all complaints, referrals and information including the nature of the complaint, referral and information; the date the complaint, referral and information was made; the method of filing; and, other records to be maintained pursuant to the generally accepted government auditing standards, as necessary, to investigate and resolves complaints, referrals and informations;
_____(2) Report promptly to the proper authorities upon a finding that a state or federal law, rule or policy has been violated;
_____(3) Make written recommendations or written findings describing the nature of the complaint, referral or information and the actions necessary to resolve each; and
_____(4) Maintain all investigation files confidentially, to the maximum extent practical, in order to protect the identity of individuals.
_____(c) Upon a finding of probable cause, the State Employee Ombudsman shall report, in writing, recommendations as may be necessary to resolve an issue.
_____(d) The State Employee Ombudsman may recommend, provide or require appropriate training necessary to resolve an issue.
_____(e) The State Employee Ombudsman may recommend certain compliance and performance measures and make written recommendations that stipulate continuing education, sensitivity training, management training, ethics training or other remediation as appropriate to resolve or prevent future issues.
§4-14-4. Reports of the State Employee Ombudsman.
_____(a) Any person may provide information regarding issues related to any person paid by the executive branch with public money. The State Employee Ombudsman shall evaluate the information and:
_____(1) Open an investigation;
_____(2) Close the file; or
_____(3) Forward the issue to an appropriate law-enforcement or regulatory agency.
_____(b) The State Employee Ombudsman shall produce an investigation report for each investigation initiated or authorized in each calendar year or as directed. Each investigation report shall include the status of the investigation and describe either a recommendation to close an investigation or describe the recommendations as may be necessary to resolve the issue.
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(c) The State Employee Ombudsman shall report annually to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance on or before January 1 of each year. The annual report shall contain:
_____(1) A summary describing the total number of issues reported received in that preceding calendar year;
_____(2) A summary of the nature of the reports received in that preceding calendar year;
_____(3) Copies of the executive summary or written recommendations made regarding each issue received in that preceding calendar year;
_____(4) A summary describing the status or disposition of all reports received in that preceding calendar year;
_____(5) A summary of the status of all issues that are continued from previous years; and
_____(6) Recommend changes to any laws, rules or policies that may be necessary to resolve and prevent future issues related to a subject matter investigated.
_____(d) The annual report of the State Employee Ombudsman is a public record.
§4-14-5. Compliance and enforcement; penalties.
_____(a) Every executive branch, office, department or agency shall cooperate with the State Employee Ombudsman and his or her staff and provide access to all records, documents, facilities and personnel in the investigation of an open investigation conducted pursuant to the authority provided in this article.
_____(b) Obstructing or otherwise failing to comply with a request for information or refusing to provide access to the public resources requested by the State Employee Ombudsman and his or her staff is a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, the person charged shall be fined not less than $500 nor more than $1,000 per offense. An employer who directs his or her employees to obstruct or otherwise refuse to comply with a request by the State Employee Ombudsman and his or her staff is guilty of obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $2,500 nor more than $10,000 and is grounds for termination of employment.
_____(c) The State Employee Ombudsman may petition the Circuit Court of Kanawha County for orders as necessary to enforce the provisions of this article.

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NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to create a State Employee Ombudsman, describe the qualifications of the State Employee Ombudsman, provide for powers and duties of the ombudsman and specify investigatory powers, describe complaint procedures, require annual reports, establish penalties for noncompliance and allowing for enforcement.


     This article is new; therefore, it has been completely underscored.
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