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Michigan House votes to limit state severance deals

The Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
The Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.(WJRT)
Published: May. 5, 2021 at 11:12 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan House has voted unanimously to curb the size of severance deals for state officials unless they limit the state’s legal exposure and details are made public.

The move Tuesday comes after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration faced scrutiny over big payouts made to her former health and unemployment directors.

Under legislation sent to the Senate, state employees would be limited to 12 weeks of severance pay unless a higher payment serves the best interests of the state based on litigation risk. Lawmakers, other elected state officials and appointees could get no severance pay unless it contains legal costs.

The controversy erupted when Whitmer asked former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon to step down in January. He later signed a separation agreement, which included a payout of $155,000 and a clause preventing him and Whitmer from discussing why he left his job.

Whitmer and Gordon mutually agreed to waive the confidentiality clause in March and Gordon testified before the House Oversight Committee in April, where he provided more context for why he resigned.

Two other top officials in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also received separation agreements with cash payouts after they resigned following Gordon’s departure. Former Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Steve Gray received a payout when he left his position last fall.

Republicans who control the Legislature announced their plan to crack down on separation agreements in early March. They have derided separation agreements as “hush money deals” designed to cover up inner workings of the governor’s administration.

Whitmer announced an executive directive the following week that spells out how such agreements will be used during the remainder of her administration.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.