Measure to shield N.J. whistleblowers stems from Bridgegate hearings

 N.J. Assemblyman John S. Wisniewki, left, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, right,  listen as Reid Schar, special counsel to the Assembly committee, answers a question in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 3, 2014.  (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

N.J. Assemblyman John S. Wisniewki, left, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, right, listen as Reid Schar, special counsel to the Assembly committee, answers a question in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

New Jersey lawmakers are considering whether to extend whistleblower protections to state and local employees who report government fraud, waste, or abuse.

Senator Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg has proposed such a measure, saying the hearings into the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge show why the protections are needed.

The culture of fear at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was so pervasive, she said, that many employees acted against their better judgment by not reporting questionable behavior.

Her legislation would prevent employers from retaliating against the whistleblowers, and that, she said, would benefit the public.

“I think eventually it will end up protecting taxpayers by uncovering ways to save money,” said Weinberg, D-Bergen.

But Sen. Dawn Addiego is concerned the bill might have unintended consequences for local governments.

“Is it going to cause an increase in our insurance payments? Are we going to be paying more out in attorney fees because of possible lawsuits?” said Addiego, R-Burlington.

The New Jersey League of Municipalities also opposes the legislation.

“We fear that the language offered here is so broad that it’s going to invite increased litigation that will impose new costs on property taxpayers,” said John Moran who testified against the bill.

The Senate Labor Committee advanced the legislation, and it’s still awaiting action in the Assembly.

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