Saturday, December 15, 2012

Michigan's Lame Duck Had Wings and Flew

Michigan’s so-called lame duck legislature passed a remarkable 232 bills in its last week of business. Only one bill, SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday were busy days with 100 and 117 bills respectively passing and Friday was a short day with 14 bills passing before the 2011-2012 legislature adjourned for the last time.

I was standing outside the east wall of the Capitol Building below the House chamber windows chanting “Kill the bill!” when the one unthinkable happened; bill SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed in the House. The ink was not dry on this bill before Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law.

This bill got so much well-deserved attention that the other 231 bills that made their way to the floor and were passed in the last week of business went largely unnoticed.

Most of the legislation passed would not raise an eyebrow on this list, but it is remarkable for the shear volume of legislation moved in what many people mistakenly believe to be a slow session mostly committed to photo opportunities and farewell parties.

Buried in the tidal wave of bills are a few sharks that should get our attention.

HB 6060 (2012) and HB 6063 (2012) amend election law regarding recalls to 1) include factual accuracy requirement to initial clarity determination for recall petitions, 2) prohibit submission of recall petition language to county election boards in the first and last six months of an officer’s term of office, 3) prohibit the circulation of petitions during the appeal process which could postpone circulation an additional 40 days*, 4) reduced the valid signature collection period from 90 consecutive days to 60 consecutive days, and 5) limit recall initiatives to appearing on the May and November ballots only.

*The county election board must rule on factuality and clarity between 10 and 20 days after submission, the elected offer has 10 days to submit their appeal, and the circuit court has 40 days to rule on the appeal.

From now on, grass roots recalls are officially impossible. The only people who will be able to recall an elected officer are those who can afford to pay a team of attorneys and professional canvassers. In other words, the only people who can hope to successfully recall an elected official are Republicans recalling Democrats.

At least we can still repeal bad legislation! Well, maybe not?

Michigan voters successfully repealed Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager Law, in the November election. But legislatures wasted no time passing SB 0865 (2011) which creates a new act to provide for an emergency manager.

Once it has been determined that a local unit of government is financially distressed, the new Emergency Manager Law allows for four options: a consent agreement, mediation, an emergency manager, or Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Also, the state, not the local unit of government, will pay the salary of the emergency manager and other related costs.

The legislature also passed new laws that repeal commercial and industrial personal property taxes with devastating financial consequences for municipalities, school districts, libraries, and other local taxing units.

Also, new laws were passed that:

  • Require physicians that perform abortions to determine whether or not the patient may have been “coerced”,
  • Liberalize the concealed carry to permit concealed weapons to be carried into places like schools and churches and to make it easier to get a concealed carry permit,
  • and
  • Require village elections to be held at the general November election.

There were proposed laws that somehow failed to pass but need to be mentioned.

Called the Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act, one bill would have allowed health care payers, health facilities, and health providers a right to decline to provide or pay for certain objectionable health care services. This bill passed in the Senate but died in the House Committee on Insurance. A similar House bill that never came out of committee would have allowed objection to placements by child placing agency based on religious or moral convictions.

Identical bills that would have established an Education Achievement Authority as part of the public education system and provided for its powers and duties, and established processes for redeployment of unused public school buildings were introduced in both the Senate and the House were they died in Committee.

These bills will be back next year!