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Barrett introduces constitutional amendment to protect whistleblowers

‘There is a simple remedy to the governor’s constitutional objection: Amend the constitution’

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Tom Barrett introduced a constitutional amendment on Thursday to protect state employees who contact legislators.

His proposal comes after Gov. Whitmer vetoed a whistleblower protection bill earlier this year, calling the legislation unconstitutional.

“One of the best ways for legislators to improve state policy is by hearing from those directly involved in the administration and enforcement of law,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “Whether reporting illegalities or inefficiencies, state employees should be able to provide transparent insight to lawmakers without fear of retaliation.

“If the governor believes that protecting whistleblowers is unconstitutional, there is a simple remedy to her objection: Amend the constitution.”

Senate Joint Resolution Q would amend the Michigan Constitution to prohibit disciplinary action against classified state civil service employees and nonpartisan legislative staff because the employee communicates with a state legislator or their staff. The amendment would allow disciplinary action for communications prohibited by law or for knowingly making false statements.

The Legislature has included a protection for state employees’ conversations with legislators in annual appropriations bills for over a decade, including budgets Gov. Whitmer supported when she was in the Legislature. However, the governor exercised her line-item veto authority to remove the provisions from the 2019-2020 budget, citing constitutional grounds.

After the vetoes, Sen. Barrett introduced Senate Bill 686, which would have codified the budget whistleblower protections into law. He worked with Senate Democrats to amend the legislation, and it passed both the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously.

Despite the bipartisan collaboration and unanimous support, Gov. Whitmer proceeded to veto the stand-alone bill. When the Senate considered a veto override, every Democratic senator present changed their vote to align with the governor, preventing the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn a veto.

SJR Q has been referred to the Senate Committee on Oversight.