In a culture where those who witness bad behavior are encouraged to "see something, say something," those who blow the whistle on wrongdoing shouldn’t also "suffer something."

But there is an unfortunate chilling effect in the existing interpretation of state law on whistleblower protection that could mean exactly that.

Under a 2013 decision of the Franklin County Court of Appeals, employees who raise alarms about workplace wrongdoing would not be protected from possible repercussions by state law if they report conduct that is not criminal.

And that in itself is a crime.

So it’s good to see state Reps. Jack Cera, a Bellaire Democrat, and Gary Scherer, a Circleville Republican, pursue legislation to clearly prohibit retaliation when public and private employees report suspicions as they become aware of acts that would violate statutes, rules or regulations that amount to fraud or that could endanger others.

The overriding public good of ensuring broader protection from retaliation for whistleblowers is probably why Cera and Scherer have been able to attract more than a dozen bipartisan co-sponsors to House Bill 238.

Laws to encourage and protect whistleblowers have been around for some time.

The federal False Claims Act dates to the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln encouraged Congress to pass the law in 1863 to help root out fraud against the government after widespread abuse by vendors who were selling supplies to the Union Army. Corrupt practices included billing multiple times for the same horse.

The False Claims Act enabled whistleblowers to file lawsuits against private companies doing business with the government and to receive a share of damages if fraud was proven.

The federal law was rendered almost ineffective by amendments enacted in 1943 but then revived in the 1980s following reports of outrageous defense spending, including the now-iconic examples of the Navy paying $640 for a toilet seat and $435 for a claw hammer.

With beefed-up defense spending during the Reagan administration, government regulators complained that those who were aware of government overspending did not come forward because they were afraid they could lose their jobs if they reported the excesses. As a result, Congress added protections against retaliation through amendments in 1986 and increased the financial awards whistleblowers could receive for making fraud reports.

HB 238 would provide similar monetary incentives by allowing a court to award up to three times the amount of actual damages to employees who report misdeeds proved to be willful or criminal.

It is time for the General Assembly to address lingering concerns of the 2013 ruling that cast doubt on protections for employees willing to point out workplace wrongdoing, as state Inspector General Randall Meyer has been seeking for years.

Whistleblower protections should never enable employees motivated by malice or greed to cast unearned suspicion on innocent actors, and HB 238 would not protect those who purposely or recklessly make inaccurate reports against employers.

But providing a safe environment in which to share legitimate concerns about illegitimate actions is a good way to guard against corporate or government fraud and abuse.

A similar bill introduced last year by Cera and another Democrat who was seeking statewide office died for a lack of any Republican support. Today’s more bipartisan atmosphere in the Ohio House should help the legislation receive the consideration it deserves.

— The Columbus Dispatch