Michigan Legislature races clock to finish lame-duck session
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature raced Wednesday to pass bills in the final days of a contentious lame-duck session, as the fate of several key bills hung in the balance before newly elected Democrats take over top offices in January.
The GOP will continue to control the House and Senate next term but will no longer have Republican Rick Snyder in the governor’s office, making this postelection period crucial to enacting legislation — some already signed by Snyder — that could face resistance from Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer. Lawmakers left the most controversial measures until today, the last scheduled day of a two-year session. Voting could extend into early Friday.
A look at where things stand:
A Senate-backed attempt to strip incoming Democratic Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson of campaign finance oversight and shift it to a new bipartisan commission appeared to be dead. The House Elections and Ethics Committee did not consider the measures Wednesday, with Republican Chairman Aaron Miller of Sturgis saying there was a “general lack of support. I think that the current process works well, and I think that there were issues with the bills.” The legislation was seen by critics as one of the most explicit efforts to take power from a Democratic officeholder.
A Senate committee on Wednesday passed a revised version of a House-passed bill that would make it harder to initiate ballot drives by imposing a geographic-based limit on petition signatures — a month after voters passed proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, curtail gerrymandering and expand voting options. Groups currently need hundreds of thousands of valid signatures, but they can come from anywhere in the state. The legislation would let no more than 15 percent of signatures come from any one of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts.
Conservatives involved in successful abortion, tax and term limit initiatives in recent decades opposed the bill along with Democrats, liberal groups and volunteers for ballot drives. They said it is unconstitutional and an insult to voters. “What you’re doing in stamping out our voice,” said Daniel Smith of Portage, who volunteered for the initiative that put future rounds of redistricting in the hands of an independent commission rather than the Legislature.
Many Republicans and the business community backed the legislation, saying ballot drives too often are controlled by out-of-state interests that use paid signature gatherers. “Voters from a wider variety of the state should get input on these proposals before they go on the ballot,” said the sponsor, Republican Rep. James Lower of Cedar Lake. He likened the proposed geographic limit to what is required of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidates.
House-passed legislation would let the full Legislature or individual chambers automatically intervene in lawsuits, a power that until now has been reserved for the state attorney general. It is pending in the Senate. The move could affect Democratic Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who has said she probably will not defend a law allowing faith-based groups to refuse to serve same-sex couples who want to adopt children. The bill also could potentially affect Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, who will be involved in shaping legal strategy.
Snyder already has signed into law bills that significantly scale back minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that started as ballot initiatives and were preemptively adopted by GOP lawmakers so they could be more easily changed after the election.
The unprecedented maneuver is bound to be challenged in court. Snyder also signed legislation to help implement his deal with Canadian energy transport giant Enbridge to eventually replace an oil pipeline in the Great Lakes. Whitmer has criticized the agreement.
Snyder has not tipped his hand on whether he will sign other controversial bills, should they reach his desk. One finalized Wednesday would make it a crime for government agencies to require the disclosure of nonprofits’ donors, which some see as a pre-emptive strike against any attempts by Benson or Nessel to target the influence of “dark money” in elections. Republicans say the move would ensure First Amendment rights are protected.
Another bill sent to Snyder would make it tougher for Whitmer and other future governors to adopt stricter environmental and other state regulations. He vetoed such a bill in 2011, though this one would allow rules to be stricter than federal regulations if there were a “clear and convincing need.”