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Senate approves Barrett’s constitutional amendment to protect whistleblowers

LANSING, Mich. — A constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Barrett to protect state employees who contact legislators was adopted by the Senate on Tuesday.

“People who work for the state of Michigan should not be fearful for talking to their legislators about something they perceive as illegal or untoward about their jobs, nor should they face retaliation — this isn’t North Korea,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “Tens of thousands of state workers are dedicated to their jobs and take great pride in what they do. As their representatives and senators, they must be able to meet with us to freely discuss anything that truthfully might be wrong or in need of changing.”

Senate Joint Resolution 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 Whitmer’s vetoes, Barrett introduced Senate Bill 686, which would have codified the budget whistleblower protections into law and worked with Senate Democrats to amend the legislation. The bill passed both the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously, but despite the initial unanimous support, Whitmer vetoed the bill and Democrats quickly fell in line and dropped support.

“It is unfortunate that the idea of protecting whistleblowers — something long cherished by the left — has become a political football,” Barrett said. “Fortunately, we don’t live under one-person rule and the time has come to let the people decide.”

SJR G now advances to the House of Representatives for consideration.