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Inside Politics: Obama strengthens law protecting whistleblowers

- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 27, 2012

President Obama signed legislation Tuesday that affords greater protection to federal employees who expose fraud, waste and abuse in government operations.

Capping a 13-year effort by supporters of whistleblower rights, the new law closes loopholes created by court rulings, which removed protections for federal whistleblowers. One loophole specified that whistleblowers were only protected when they were the first to report misconduct.

The law makes it easier to punish supervisors who try to retaliate against the government workers.

The federal official who investigates retaliation, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, said her office "stands ready to implement these important reforms, which will better ensure that no employee suffers retaliation for speaking out against government waste or misconduct."

The new legislation, however, would go beyond restoring protections, to expand whistleblower rights and clarify certain protections. For example, whistleblowers could challenge the consequences of government policy decisions.

Specific protections would be given to certain employees, including government scientists who challenge censorship.

The bill also would clarify that whistleblowers have the right to communicate with Congress.

HOUSE

GOP recommends new committee chairmen

Top House Republicans have recommended committee chairmanships for the new Congress that convenes in January. They want Paul Ryan to head the Budget panel and have proposed seven new faces to head committees, but none of their recommendations is a woman.

The leaders proposed to waive the GOP's six-year term limit on committee chairmanships so Mr. Ryan, the party's losing vice presidential nominee, could return to head the Budget Committee. Several other long-term committee chairmen are being replaced, including Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has led the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, noted that three women had been selected to the party's leadership for next year. They include Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who will be the No. 4 House GOP leader.

OHIO

State Senate leader stops restrictive abortion bill

COLUMBUS — The leader of the Ohio Senate put a stop Tuesday to a bill that would have imposed the most stringent restriction on abortions in the nation.

The chamber doesn't plan to vote on the so-called heartbeat bill before the end of the legislative session next month, Republican Senate President Thomas E. Niehaus said, citing concerns the resulting law might have been found to be unconstitutional.

"I want to continue our focus on jobs and the economy," Mr. Niehaus told reporters. "That's what people are concerned about."

The bill proposed banning abortions after the first fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It had fiercely divided Ohio's pro-life community while energizing abortion rights proponents who protested against it.

Backers hoped the stringent nature of the bill would provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Ohio Right to Life, the state's largest and oldest anti-abortion group, and many state lawmakers expressed concern the limit would be unconstitutional -- jeopardizing other abortion limits in Ohio and expanding access to legal abortions.

The measure initially had stalled in both chambers as leaders sought legal advice as to whether the bill could withstand a court challenge. It passed the House in June 2011 and had remained pending in the Senate since.

Mr. Niehaus, who is leaving the Senate at the end of the year due to term limits, said a number of factors went into his decision not to bring the bill to a floor vote during the lame-duck session. He cited lingering constitutional concerns but would not elaborate on other issues he had with the measure.

MARYLAND

Kansas' Dole hospitalized for routine procedure

Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda for what his spokesman called a routine procedure.

Dole spokeswoman Marion Watkins said the 89-year-old Mr. Dole is "doing very well" and is expected to leave the hospital Wednesday.

Mr. Dole's name drew mention as the Senate on Tuesday debated a U.N. treaty promoting equal rights for the disabled. Mr. Dole overcame disabling war wounds to forge a 36-year political career. In the early 1990s, he underwent successful surgery for prostate cancer and in 2001 he had surgery to treat an aneurysm.

Mr. Dole spent 10 months at Walter Reed in 2010 after suffering pneumonia following knee surgery.

He was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton.

NEW JERSEY

Christie: Campaign also about rebuilding state

MIDDLETOWN — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to spend the next year leading efforts to rebuild his home state after Superstorm Sandy — and running for re-election.

The 50-year-old governor announced his intention to seek a second term Monday after telling his campaign treasurer to file papers so he can begin hiring campaign staff, selecting a headquarters and raising money toward his re-election. A formal announcement is expected in January.

Mr. Christie is riding an unprecedented wave of popularity because of how he handled the storm, which he said Friday had caused more than $29 billion in damage in New Jersey.

He carried the Democratic-leaning state by 86,000 votes in 2009, an upset win over Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine.

SENATE

Lawmakers want more info on gas price spikes

Six Democratic senators representing states along the Pacific Coast are asking the Justice Department to investigate the role of oil refineries in gas spikes that occurred in May and October even as crude oil prices were declining.

Gas prices jumped last month in California to more than $5 a gallon. Analysts said a web of refinery problems were to blame. But the senators say a review of California refinery emissions data revealed inconsistencies between the time refineries were actually producing petroleum products and when maintenance shutdowns were publicly reported. They said misleading reports of shutdowns could create a perceived shortage of gasoline.

The letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was sent by the senators from Washington, Oregon and California.

MONTANA

Salazar: Settlement a step toward reconciliation

HELENA — Attorneys representing hundreds of thousands of American Indians say they should start seeing the first payments of a $3.4 billion settlement with the U.S. government by year's end.

The settlement between American Indians across the nation and the government over more than a century's worth of squandered and mismanaged land trust royalties became final Friday.

The lawsuit was started by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont., in 1996 after the Blackfeet woman saw no accounting of the money held in trust by the government.

Cobell died last year of cancer.

Plaintiffs' attorneys said Monday approximately 350,000 beneficiaries should start receiving $1,000 checks as the first part of the settlement goes forward.

Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar says the settlement marks a step forward in reconciliation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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