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SB-51 Professional licensees: environmental sciences and climate change: whistleblower and data protection.(2017-2018)

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Date Published: 05/03/2017 09:00 PM
SB51:v96#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Senate  May 03, 2017
Amended  IN  Senate  March 28, 2017
Amended  IN  Senate  February 22, 2017

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2017–2018 REGULAR SESSION

Senate Bill No. 51


Introduced by Senator Jackson

December 05, 2016


An act to add Section 494.7 to the Business and Professions Code, and to add Section 12812.7 to the Government Code, relating to government data.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 51, as amended, Jackson. Professional licensees: environmental sciences and climate change: whistleblower and data protection.
The California Whistleblower Protection Act requires the State Auditor to administer the act and to investigate and report on improper governmental activities, as defined.
Existing law provides for the licensure and regulation of various professions and vocations by certain entities within state government. Existing law establishes various grounds upon which these entities may take disciplinary action against a licensee to suspend or revoke a license.
This bill would prohibit these licensing entities entities, except the State Bar of California, from taking disciplinary action, including disbarment, suspension, loss of credential, registration, or other professional privilege, against a public employee or employee of a government contractor, subcontractor, or grantee, as defined to include those persons working in the environmental sciences and climate-change-related fields, in connection with actions taken by that person to report improper governmental action or communicate the results of or information about scientific or technical research in a scientific or a public forum or with the media.
Existing law requires the Secretary for Environmental Protection to coordinate greenhouse gas emission reductions and climate change activity in state government.
This bill would additionally require the Secretary for Environmental Protection to ensure that all scientific information and other data otherwise in the public domain is protected against censorship or destruction by the federal government.
This bill would include findings and declarations related to the measure, including that the purpose of these provisions is, to the maximum extent feasible under state law, to ensure those persons may report improper governmental activity and to continue to make scientific and other information open to the public without fear of losing their professional licenses or credentials.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) Current law, including the Rules of Professional Conduct, law does not provide adequate guidance and clarity for persons employed by, or representing, governmental organizations to determine the circumstances under which they may properly seek to protect the public interest by reporting improper governmental activity to appropriate enforcement, regulatory, and oversight bodies.
(b) There are new efforts underway to limit the freedom of scientists and other professionals working for the federal government to report improper government activity, as well as to restrict or prohibit their freedom to publish scientific information and to freely associate with other parties.
(c) The purpose of this chapter is, to the maximum extent feasible under state law, to ensure those persons may report improper governmental activity and to continue to make scientific and other information open to the public without fear of losing their professional licenses or credentials.

SEC. 2.

 Section 494.7 is added to the Business and Professions Code, to read:

494.7.
 (a) For purposes of this section:
(1) “Improper governmental activity” means conduct by a governmental organization or by its agent that meets one or more of the following requirements:
(A) It constitutes the use of the organization’s official authority or influence by the agent to commit a crime, fraud, or other serious and willful violation of law.
(B) It involves the agent’s willful misuse of public funds, willful breach of fiduciary duty, or willful or corrupt misconduct in office.
(C) It involves the agent’s willful omission to perform his or her official duty.
(2) “Employee” means a person on the payroll of, or working as a contractor, subcontractor, or grantee of, a government contractor, subcontractor, or grantee who works in environmental sciences or a climate-change-related field.
(3) “Public employee” means a person on the payroll of any federal agency, the state, its subdivisions, special districts, or any other tax-financed entity who works in environmental sciences or a climate-change-related field.
(4) “Scientific or technical research” means the results of scientific activities related to environmental sciences or climate change, including, but not limited to, the analysis, synthesis, compilation, or translation of scientific information and data into formats used in official decisionmaking processes or publications.
(b) A licensing entity other than the State Bar of California shall not take disciplinary action, including disbarment, suspension, loss of credential, registration, or other professional privilege, against a public employee or employee of a government contractor, subcontractor, or grantee in connection with actions taken by that person to:
(1) Report improper governmental activity, provided that the person takes one of the following actions:
(A) Urges reconsideration of the matter while explaining its likely consequences to the organization.
(B) Refers the matter to a higher authority in the organization, including, if warranted by the seriousness of the matter, referral to the highest internal authority that can act on behalf of the organization.
(C) Refers the matter to the law enforcement agency charged with responsibility over the matter or to any other governmental agency or official charged with overseeing or regulating the matter if all of the following have occurred:
(i) The person has taken both actions described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) without the matter being resolved.
(ii) The person reasonably believes that the highest internal authority that can act on behalf of the organization has already, directly or indirectly, participated in the improper governmental activity.
(iii) The referral is warranted by the seriousness of the circumstances and is not otherwise prohibited by law.
(iv) Further action is required in order to prevent or rectify substantial harm to public health, safety, the environment, or the public interest or to the governmental organization resulting from the improper governmental activity.
(2) Communicate the results of or information about scientific or technical research in a scientific or a public forum or with the media.
(c) This section shall not be construed to require that the improper governmental activity subject to its provisions be related, directly or indirectly, to the matter for which the person is making the referral.

SEC. 3.

 Section 12812.7 is added to the Government Code, to read:

12812.7.
 The Secretary for Environmental Protection shall ensure that all scientific information and other data otherwise in the public domain is protected against censorship or destruction by the federal government.