JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Aug. 27, 2018) Several legislative priorities of State Auditor Nicole Galloway will become Missouri law this month. They include measures improving school cybersecurity, protecting whistleblowers, holding government more accountable for tax refunds, and prohibiting state government from using non-disclosure agreements in settlements.
Auditor Galloway said the new laws, which take effect Aug. 28, demonstrate bipartisan cooperation that will benefit Missourians. She worked closely with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers before and during this year's General Assembly on legislative language and to push the bills across the finish line.
"I'm pleased that legislators from both sides of the aisle worked together, and with my office, to pass these bills," Auditor Galloway said. "The benefits will put more money in Missourians' pockets, protect the privacy of our children, and hold government officials more accountable."
Early in the 2018 legislative session, Auditor Galloway identified several of her priorities, including:
- Requiring the state to pay taxpayers the same interest rate on late tax refunds as the rate the state charges taxpayers for filing late;
- Providing Missouri parents the right to know when their children's personal information is subject to a school cybersecurity data breach;
- Restoring protections to government whistleblowers; and
- Prohibiting the use of non-disclosure agreements in settlements and judgments paid by the taxpayer-funded Legal Expense Fund.
All four of the Galloway-supported measures will become law Aug. 28.
"The safety and prosperity of Missourians, as well as their confidence in their government, will be strengthened through these new laws," said Auditor Galloway, whose audit reports often initially identified the problems that will be addressed by the new laws taking effect.
The Auditor highlighted the interest rate disparity in a January 2018 audit on the timeliness of tax refunds from the Department of Revenue. In addition to finding so many refunds were issued late to taxpayers, Auditor Galloway called for a legislative fix to the problem of the interest rate disparity. A new law will require the state to pay taxpayers the same interest rate charged to taxpayers on late payments.
Also starting on Aug. 28, parents of students at public schools statewide must be notified by their children's school districts if a data breach compromises sensitive student data. The Auditor highlighted the issue of cybersecurity in schools, both through her audits and in her recognition of several Missouri school districts that proactively implemented parental notification policies.
In 2017, then-Gov. Greitens signed a bill that stripped away long-standing whistleblower protections for government employees who exposed waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayer resources. The bill became law over the objections of Auditor Galloway. She called on lawmakers to restore the protections, saying they are vital to uncovering wrongdoing in government. Thanks to the new law, those protections will again be in place.
Auditor Galloway has been a critic of non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, in settlements or judgments that state government agencies pay from the Legal Expense Fund. NDAs prevent public discussion of claims settled against the government, Galloway said, and also can hide long-term, festering problems that often result in more lawsuits and greater costs to taxpayers. Those secret agreements soon will be prohibited because of legislation pushed by the Auditor.
The 2018 legislation joins other priorities successfully pushed by the Auditor in recent years, including a 2017 law that increases transparency in governments across Missouri by assessing penalties on local governments that fail to disclose required financial information and legislation in 2016 that increases the transparency and accountability of local taxing districts. A bill that Auditor Galloway strongly supported to give law enforcement additional tools to hold accountable officials who abuse their authority was passed by the General Assembly in 2017 but vetoed by Greitens.
In total, eight of the Auditor's legislative priorities have been passed by lawmakers during the past three sessions, with seven of the bills becoming law.