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Barrett reintroduces constitutional amendment to protect whistleblowers

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

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Tom Barrett reintroduced a constitutional amendment Tuesday to protect state employees who contact legislators.

“As legislators, we need to be able to hear from everyone we serve to determine the best ways to improve state policy,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “State employees are directly involved in the administration and enforcement of law, and whether they are reporting illegalities or inefficiencies, they should be able to provide transparent insight to lawmakers without fear of retaliation.”

Senate Joint Resolution G is a reintroduction of a similar resolution last year. SJR G 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 last year from the 2019-2020 budget, citing constitutional grounds.

After the vetoes last year, 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.

“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed my whistleblower protection bill last year, indicating she believes that protecting whistleblowers is unconstitutional,” Barrett said. “There is a simple remedy to her objection: Amend the constitution.”

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