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House short votes to put whistleblower proposal on ballot

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year vetoed a similar bill.

Voters will not decide if whistleblower protections for state employees should be added to the Michigan Constitution.

The Republican-controlled House on Thursday voted 65-38 for a resolution to place the amendment on the November 2022 ballot. It was eight votes short of the 73 needed, after many Democrats voted no.

The proposal, which the Senate unanimously approved in May, would prohibit a state department or agency from taking disciplinary action against workers in the classified civil service for communicating with a legislator or the lawmaker’s staff. A similar provision would safeguard nonpartisan legislative employees.

The restrictions would not apply if employees make false statements or their communications are barred by law.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, last year vetoed a similar bill, saying it would have unconstitutionally encroached on the separation of powers and the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s authority. The latest measure would not be subject to a gubernatorial veto because it would amend the constitution.

Rep. Julie Alexander, a Hanover Republican, called it “a safeguard for state employees who approach lawmakers in good faith. ... When a problem arises in state government, it often takes conscientious employees speaking up to shed light on the subject.”

But House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, a Democrat from Washtenaw County’s Scio Township, opposed the proposal. She referenced unionized workers with collectively bargained contracts, saying the measure would “cause chaos in longstanding relationships, procedures, grievances, how folks come forward and the processes we use to resolve those grievances and conflicts.”