Michael C. Byrne writes in the N&O about House Bill 834, which he says would “make it nearly impossible for state employees to challenge their dismissals, a practical return to the 19th century system where state employees serve at the governor’s pleasure.”
Under the new bill, cases would not be heard by impartial ALJs [administrative law judges] but by “hearing officers” hired by and reporting to the governor’s political appointees. The bill sets no qualifications such as law licenses or judicial ethics for the hearing officers. No rules are set for the hearings, either, such as that they are open to the public or that employees may hire attorneys to help them. The rules of civil procedure and evidence that ensure fairness to both sides in OAH hearings are also missing from the new system.
And the controlling decision in the case would be made by the State Personnel Commission, a board of political appointees, most of whom are not lawyers. The State Personnel Commission can ignore any findings by the hearing officer and make its own decision on the facts and the law – and without, under the bill, seeing or hearing from the employee, any witnesses or any attorneys. No independent or impartial decision-makers are involved with the new system.
Though the bill provides some limited appeal rights to the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Superior Court, these appeals are made largely pointless by the law putting the State Personnel Commission– the governor – in control of the final decision. The bill requires the OAH and Superior Court to rule in favor of any decision by the State Personnel Commission if there is “any competent evidence” to support the decision.