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Whitmer vetoes 'whistleblower' bill as sponsor urges override

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a bill Wednesday that received no opposition votes in the Legislature and would create protections for state employees who bring concerns to lawmakers.

The bill, which bars state agencies from punishing an employee for communicating with a lawmaker, passed the GOP-controlled Michigan House in a 108-0 vote on June 24 and the Senate in a 37-0 vote on Feb. 26.

But Whitmer said the bill — sponsored by state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte — violates the constitutional separation of powers in government and aimed "to score political points." Michigan law already provides "robust whistleblower protections" for individuals who reveal legal violations, the Democratic governor argued in a letter explaining her veto.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference regarding the state’s response to the emergency regarding dam conditions and flooding  in Midland and Sanford on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at Meridian Elementary School in Sanford.

"Whether and how to discipline employees is a core executive power, entrusted to the governor and in part to the Civil Service Commission," she added.

In response, Barrett, a former state employee, called for the Republican-led Legislature to override Whitmer's veto. The Legislature can override a veto with two-thirds votes of support in the Michigan House and Senate.

The bill aims to promote integrity within state government, Barrett has said.

"People should want lawmakers to make the best informed decision," he said.

Lawmakers have previously included similar language to protect their communications with state employees in annual budget bills. But Whitmer used her executive powers to strike the language from departmental budgets for 2020 and said it was unconstitutional.

Barrett said he hoped Democratic lawmakers who voted for the bill in the Legislature would continue to support it despite the Democratic governor's veto.

"Just because the governor doesn't like something doesn't mean you have to hide behind that," Barrett said.

The governor vetoed five other bills Wednesday that would have allowed for deferred tax payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the bills would "wreak havoc" on local budgets, Whitmer said in a letter explaining the vetoes.