December 9, 2018
At this writing we are in the midst of Lame Duck session, a time when high priority and some surprise new bills emerge because the 99th Legislature ends December 31. Bills not passed will die and will need re-introduction in the 100th Legislature after January 1, 2019. About two-thirds of the Senate and over a third of the House are leaving, making many of their votes free from subsequent voter wrath.
The most important of the many new bills introduced by the Republican majority subsequent to the November 6 election affect the new voter-approved laws, new voter-initiated laws, and the powers of the incoming Democratic Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State.
Meanwhile the Governor wants his $371.5 million supplemental appropriation bill passed that will provide additional road funding, money to rebuild the SOO locks, address the emerging polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) threat, respond to the recent negative audit in Children’s Protective Services, and add more money to the rainy day fund. He also wants to raise solid waste tipping fees and increase water fees to fund environmental problems.
Voter-initiated laws — In September, the Legislature adopted the voter-initiated acts that increased the minimum wage and required paid sick time. By passing them, the Legislature kept both off the November ballot while also allowing only a majority vote in both chambers to amend the laws, which Republicans can do alone now and in the next legislative session.
A 1964 opinion from former Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelley said the Legislature cannot amend an approved voter-initiated law in the same legislative session. However, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an opinion on December 3 saying it is constitutional to amend a voter-initiated law in the same legislative session and that his opinion as current attorney general supersedes Mr. Kelley’s 1964 opinion.
SB 1171 and SB 1175 to scale back the voter-initiated laws on minimum wage and paid sick leave, respectively, were introduced November 8, passed quickly through both chambers and were presented to the Governor at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, December 5. He has 14 days to approve or veto them. Michigan SERA endorsed these as ballot issues and put in cards opposing SB 1171 and 1175 during hearings on the bills.
Minimum wage — The current initiated law incrementally increases the minimum wage from $9.25 to $12 per hour by 2022 and brings the tipped minimum wage, which is now $3.52 per hour, to the regular minimum wage by 2024. As is the case under the 2014 minimum wage compromise law, the wage would then adjust according to inflation in future years. Under the House changes concurred in by the Senate in SB 1171, the minimum wage would instead increase to $12.05 by 2030 and the tipped minimum wage would remain 38 percent of the regular minimum wage, meaning $4.58 per hour by 2030. The inflation escalator would be eliminated.
Paid sick time law — Under the voter-initiated law on paid tick time, employers of 10 or more employees would have to provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum of 72 hours per year. Under changes passed by the House and concurred in by the Senate in SB 1175, only employers with 50 or more employees would have to provide one hour for every 35 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 hours per year.
With these changes, only 45 percent of Michigan’s workforce would be covered by paid sick time requirements. Moreover, most large employers with 50 or more employees already have paid-time off policies for their workers.
Proposal 2 redistricting constitution amendment — SB 1254 sponsored by Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) would spell out certain duties of the Secretary of State relating to the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission adopted by voters in Proposal 2 on November 6.
Under SB 1254, rules would have to be promulgated and submitted to the legislature for approval as to who would be considered a member of a party or an independent. An individual would be conclusively presumed to be affiliated with more than one political party if, within the previous six years, the individual offered to or did contribute, loan, or promise money or anything of value to more than one political party. Individuals applying for the commission either as a partisan member or as an independent would be made to swear an oath to that effect. Anyone found to have lied about their affiliation or having provided false information could be fined $500. Those affiliated with a political party would be prohibited from providing services, including legal or accounting, to the commission. No penalty for doing so is specified under the bill.
The Senate voted 25-12 to pass SB 1254, with all 10 Democrats present voting against the bill along with two Republicans. At this writing the bill is in the House Committee on Elections and Ethics.
Proposal 3 voting rights constitutional amendment — A package of bills sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) attempts to fill gaps in some of the voting rights 67 percent of voters approved in November in Proposal 3. SB 1238, SB 1239, SB 1240, SB 1241 and SB 1242 passed the Senate along party lines and, at this writing are ready for full House approval.
The main bill, SB 1238, requires those registering to vote on election day to do so in person at their city or township clerk’s office and vote absentee there rather than appearing at their polling place to register and cast a regular ballot. Other bills define what is acceptable proof of residency in the 14 days before an election: voters providing a driver’s license or other form of statewide ID can cast unchallenged ballots; voters lacking those forms of identification can provide a current utility bill, bank statement, paystub or other current government document, but then would cast a challenged ballot subject to further confirmation of the voter’s identity. Kowall’s bill package also would require an applicant for a state driver license or personal ID card to declare whether he or she is a U.S. citizen for purposes of automatic voter registration.
Although the bills as introduced looked somewhat tame, the substitutes dropped at the Senate Committee hearing were more extensive and there were only a few minutes to read them before testimony was taken. Opponents could only give oral testimony urging the majority to slow down the process. Associations representing local clerks were neutral on the bills, saying they need more time to digest what is contained in the legislation.
Campaign finance commission — Senate Bills 1248-52 sponsored by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc) removes oversite of campaign finance laws from the Secretary of State’s authority and creates a new bipartisan Fair Political Practices Commission of three members from the Governor’s political party and three from the other major political party to oversee campaign finance. This is similar to the frequently deadlocked bi-partisan Federal Elections Commission.
The rushed nature of Lame Duck did not permit the Senate Fiscal Agency to do its usual analysis of the bills. Nevertheless, the Senate voted 25-11, along mostly party lines, to pass SB 1248-52. At this writing, the bills have been referred to the House Committee on Elections and Ethics.
Legislative Court Intervention — HB 6553 sponsored by Rep. Rob VernHeulen (R-Walker) would authorize the legislature and each house of the legislature to intervene in any action in any court of this state at any stage of the proceeding if the legislature or house felt the intervention necessary to protect a right or interest of the state or of that body. Each house could prosecute an appeal or apply for a rehearing or take any other action that could be taken by any of the parties to the litigation. This right of intervention would apply to all matters pending when the bill takes effect and to any filed later. Each house could adopt rules to facilitate the bill’s provisions. Currently the legislature can apply for intervention but the court does not have to allow it.
Passage of the bill would assure a mechanism for the Republican legislative majorities to defend laws enacted during the era of total Republican control if Democratic Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel choose not to do so.
The bill passed the House 58-50 with five Republicans joining all present Democrats in voting no. At this writing, the bill is in the Senate Committee on Government Operations.
Union Decertification Election Bill — SB 1260 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof would require the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to oversee biennial union decertification elections between August 1 and November 30 beginning in 2022 in every public sector work place with a union. There is a $500,000 appropriation included in the bill that makes it referendum-proof under Michigan law. Again, due to the speed and volume of new bills, no Senate Fiscal Agency Analysis was provided for the bill and there was no testimony or statement from the Commission which would administer it.
Four union representatives testified orally in opposition and 27 employee organizations and individuals put in cards opposing the bill. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, a free-market conservative organization that has long criticized union practices, said the bill would give public employees a needed voice. Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth testified there’s no need for the bill and said it would complicate the job of his sheriff’s deputies. “If this bill passes, I guarantee it will create significant internal chaos in our organizations that could possibly or would possibly affect our ability to deal with all that’s going on with regard to the external chaos,” he said. The bill was reported out of committee along party lines and, at this writing, is ready for a vote by the whole Senate.
New Education Commission — HB 6313 and 6314 would create “public innovation districts” that won’t have to follow some state education regulations, such as minimum level of classroom hours for students. The bills also create a 13-member Education Accountability Policy Commission to oversee those districts. The Governor gets to appoint 7 of the members. The Commission would usurp some of the power of the elected State Board of Education that will have a new Democratic majority in January. The proposed commission does not answer to the State Board, the Department of Education or to the Governor. The bills have passed the House and are ready for Senate Committee consideration. House Bill 5526, which would create an A-to-F ranking system for public schools, would give even broader powers to the appointed commission. That bill is awaiting a vote in the House.
Transition — Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer has announced that swearing in of state officers will occur at on January 1 at the Capitol. Musical performances before the inauguration will begin at 10:30 a.m., with the actual inaugural ceremonies beginning at 11:30 a.m. There will be an inaugural celebration at Cobo Hall in Detroit beginning at 7 p.m. that evening. Whitmer and Lt. Governor-elect Garlin Gilchrist also plan on holding “free, family events” on January 12 in Flint and Detroit, on January 26 in Grand Rapids and then in Marquette on February 16.
Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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