The nation’s newest state False Claims Act was signed into law today by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, after passing unanimously in both houses of the legislature.
The “Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act” protects all taxpayer dollars spent not only by the State, but also by counties, municipalities, school districts, hospital authorities, and other local public bodies or entities.
Like the federal False Claims Act, this Act combats fraud and false claims against taxpayer funds by imposing “treble” damages and civil penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim. It also provides rewards to whistleblowers.
Because I was asked to provide input on this bill and to testify at each legislative hearing, I was invited to today’s signing. Also participating were Rep. Edward Lindsey, the chief legislative sponsor, and Rep. Matt Ramsey.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and his staff reportedly canvassed other state Attorneys General to discuss “best practices” in formulating such laws that protect against fraud. The Attorney General will have the authority to investigate violations and pursue these cases, and can delegate that authority to district attorneys or other local government lawyers to pursue violations that affect local government bodies.
The majority of states have enacted a state version of the False Claims Act, the nation’s major “whistleblower” law. Until now, Georgia’s State False Medicaid Claims Act applied only to Medicaid spending. (This bill, HR 822, also updated the State False Medicaid Claims Act to make it consistent with the federal False Claims Act after its 2009-2010 amendments.)
Compared to other states that have successfully recovered hundreds of millions of dollars under their state versions of the False Claims Act, to date Georgia has devoted far fewer resources to that effort. Because these laws add far more to state revenues than they cost in dollars to implement, Georgia’s citizens will be best served if the Attorney General is provided substantial resources to stop those who would steal taxpayer funds, and to recover damages from those who commit fraud.
I commend Rep. Lindsey and the other legislative sponsors of the Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act. Now, it is up to both citizens and government officials to see that the law is used to stop and redress any significant fraud against taxpayers.