Since her inauguration on Jan. 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken action to reform and increase access to institutions of government for minorities and women, particularly through the use of executive directives.

In the last several weeks, two directives in particular have generated conversation over their potential impact on the economy and people of Michigan.

The first directive, signed Jan. 7, prohibits any discrimination or withholding of opportunities from government employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The second, signed Jan. 8, intends to limit wage inequality by prohibiting state agencies and employers from asking about applicants’ previous salaries until a job and salary offer has been made.

These orders are among ten signed by Gov. Whitmer in her first several weeks in office, aimed towards demonstrating her administration’s intent to resolve social disparities in income and employment.

For many Michigan residents, Gov. Whitmer’s executive actions are seen as the fulfillment of continued campaign promises to pursue anti-discrimination measures.

In her inauguration address, Gov. Whitmer assured her voters that she would cross party lines to address their concerns.

“I will be a governor for everyone, and I am committed to working across party lines to ensure that all Michiganders have opportunity,” she said.

This sentiment was echoed in the text of both directives, as the first directly states, “all Michigan residents deserve fair treatment and respect from their government — in employment, state contracting, and when accessing services from state government.”

According to Katie Kelly, Public Policy junior and communications director for the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, both of these directives will benefit Michigan residents, particularly those soon to enter the workforce.

“I only see this as impacting future workers in a positive manner,” Kelly said. “Especially for women, we have grown up in a world where we are not always considered equal. Having a governor sign something like this into law shows that the state of Michigan values women’s hard work.”

Directive 2019-09, which bolsters opportunities for members of the LGBTQ community, expands on previous legislation signed by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder. However, Gov. Snyder’s policy made exemptions for churches and similar religious organizations, allowing these groups to choose who they extend service and employment to on the basis of religious belief.  

While Gov. Whitmer’s directive only applies to public employers, Kelly sees the omission of a religious exemption as eliminating the possibility of discrimination.

“By allowing for exemptions, (Snyder) created loopholes that organizations could jump through to discriminate against certain people,” Kelly said. “Governor Whitmer’s covers all aspects of possible discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

Will Sherry, director of the University’s Spectrum Center, was also optimistic about the effects of Whitmer’s new legislation, particularly for LGBTQ students at the University.

“A lot of the work we do is advising and working with students to figure out what they want for their own lives, and how they want to contribute to the world,” Sherry said of the Spectrum Center. “When we talk about building a diverse workforce, I think these are the kind of initiatives that can really help retain talent in Michigan and bring new talent to the state.”

Gov. Whitmer’s two directives have also garnered a considerable amount of bipartisan support, suggesting an increased support for government reform.

Dylan Berger, LSA sophomore and president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, explained in an email interview both directives were a step in the right direction for the people of Michigan.

“We applaud Governor Whitmer for working to ensure that all Michiganders, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, have a chance to succeed,” Berger said . “By building on the progress made by Governor Snyder, Governor Whitmer has proved that fighting against discrimination is truly a bipartisan issue.”

Berger went on to state that this collaborative policy-making effort should be used by Gov. Whitmer in resolving other issues facing the state.

“Governor Whitmer ought to build on this bipartisan momentum with other key issues for Michigan such as fixing our infrastructure,” he wrote.

Nonetheless, arguments have arisen pointing out flaws in Gov. Whitmer’s plan. In an interview with Michigan Radio, Holly Wetzel, communications coordinator at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Gov. Whitmer’s policy would change little in the way of wage discrimination.

“Unfortunately, (Whitmer’s) well-intentioned solution is a flawed approach to solving the wrong problem,” she said. “It has long been illegal for employers to discriminate financially or otherwise based on one’s gender.”

While these two directives demonstrate top priorities of the Whitmer administration, they represent only a fraction of the goals the new governor has aimed to achieve at the start of her term in office.

The other eight directives put forth within Gov. Whitmer’s first several weeks in office are aimed at increasing government transparency and minimizing ethics violations.

In her inaugural address, Gov. Whitmer expressed an optimism for government reform, and a desire to build off her early directives with future legislation and grassroots involvement in policy-making.

“I am so looking forward to working with you over the next weeks and months and years,” Gov. Whitmer said. “We may belong to different parties, but we are all here today for the same reason — we are proud Michiganders first and foremost, and we owe it to the people we serve to cast partisanship aside, to roll up our sleeves and to build bridges together.”

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