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Michigan lawmakers propose protections for whistleblowers

December 21, 2019 GMT

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers across the aisle want to pass more protections for whistleblowers who risk losing their jobs for reporting wrongdoing, but their efforts could potentially face pushback from the state’s Democratic governor who has argued similar proposals are unconstitutional.

Democratic state Sen. Jeff Irwin sponsored a bill that would shield retaliation against people who expose suspected legal violations that are yet to occur. Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett sponsored a bill that would protect state employees who flag allegations of wrongdoing to lawmakers.

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“I think that our law should protect whistleblowers,” Irwin said. “When people are taking a courageous action and putting their career at risk to protect people in their community or wherever it is they work, those folks deserve protection.”

While lawmakers have previously pushed for similar protections in annual budget bills, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed them in October, saying they were unconstitutional, The Detroit News reported.

“We can and should strengthen whistleblower protections, in a way that complies with the constitution,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and state courts have said such provisions violated the separation of powers in the state constitution “because a department’s disciplinary policy is a core executive function.”

The bill Barrett is sponsoring would bar state departments from taking disciplinary actions against employees because they shared information with state lawmakers, a measure that aims to promote integrity within state government, he said.

But Barrett has noted that a separate law can resolve the constitutional concerns.

The bill Irwin supports would expand Michigan’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, which says employers cannot threaten, fire or discriminate against employees who report suspected legal violations.

The bill Barrett sponsors currently has 16 Republican co-sponsors and will have Irwin’s support.

“I agree with the governor on almost everything, but not this,” Irwin said.