Michigan Dem senators flip-flop to block overriding Whitmer's veto on 'whistleblower' bill

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — After voting for the proposal in February, Michigan Senate Democrats halted a push Thursday to override Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's veto of a bill that would provide legal protections for state workers who communicate with lawmakers.

Veto overrides, which require two-thirds support, have been rare in the Michigan Legislature.

But Republicans were hoping Democrats would join them in overriding Whitmer's veto of a bill that would bar state agencies from punishing an employee for raising concerns with a legislator, effectively serving as a "whistleblower" for the Legislature.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer provides an update on COVID-19 in Michigan on Thursday, May 28, 2020.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, passed the Senate 37-0 in  February with all 16 Democrats in the chamber voting for it. Whitmer, a Democrat, vetoed the proposal, saying it violates the constitutional separation of powers in government and aimed "to score political points."

"Whether and how to discipline employees is a core executive power," Whitmer said in a letter explaining her veto.

The 15 Democrats present in the Senate opposed the override Thursday, arguing that they discovered "flaws" in the proposal that they didn't know about when they first voted for it. And Republicans were left four votes short of an override.

Barrett, a former state employee himself, accused the Democrats of fearing retaliation from the governor.

He heard from a state employee recently who wanted to bring forward concerns about unnecessary spending in a state department, Barrett said. He told the employee to wait until the proposed protections are in place.

But Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said the proposal would even protect a state employee who came to a lawmaker's office and lied about a situation.

"I didn’t know that when I voted for this bill," Moss said.

Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said he was willing to work with Republicans on the idea behind the proposal to resolve constitutional concerns. Lawmakers can work together or play politics, Hertel said.

"This is not going to solve anything," Hertel said of the veto override push.

In 2018, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Legislature overrode a veto from Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder, the first in more than seven years under Snyder and just the third since 1977.