Critics say lame ducks make lame laws

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Before the end of the year, Michigan lawmakers will take up some of the most controversial bills that would:

  • Delay the minimum wage hike of $12 per hour until 2030 instead of 2022.
  • Exempt employers with less than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick leave.
  • Make provisions to the anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment that passed in November
  • Move oversight responsibilities on a proposed tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac
  • Bar state agencies from disclosing information about nonprofit supporters and donors.
  • Remove regulations from 70,000 wetlands statewide.
  • Alter same-day and automatic voting registration standards that passed in November.
  • Allow the House of Representatives and Senate to intervene in any legal matters involving the state, which usually falls under the responsibility of the attorney general and governor.

Known as a lame-duck session, the short period of time between an election and the inauguration of a newly elected Legislature on Jan. 1 is often met with a flurry of bill passages, as well as controversy.

It’s a period of time right between Thanksgiving and Christmas where the weather’s not very good and there’s not a lot of time for public debate,” said Sam Inglot, the deputy communications director at Progress Michigan, an advocacy group based in Lansing. “So regardless of who is in charge, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans or a split of power, they push these controversial policies.”

The election on Nov. 6 resulted in the governor, attorney general and secretary of state flipping from Republican to Democrat. The Senate and House will remain with a Republican majority.

Progress Michigan and over two dozen other statewide organizations have opposed the lame-duck process, calling out lawmakers and interest groups that benefit from the current session.

“What we’re seeing around the country following a lot of progressive victories is Republican legislatures scrambling to strip power away from people,” Inglot said. “We’re seeing that here, in Wisconsin and previously in North Carolina.”

It would take a constitutional amendment to alter the powers of lame-duck politicians. A short-term solution is for politicians on the way out to to simply stay home, Inglot said.

But others disagree. They say politicians should be at work right up until their terms expire.

“You can’t just do nothing,” said John Zimmerman, the marketing and communications executive at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a statewide business organization representing 6,400 employers, trade associations and local chambers of commerce. “There’s a lot to be done and we believe that people should continue to work.”

“We meet with representatives and explain to them our views and the views of our members and encourage them to make amendments to certain bills that are on the docket,” Zimmerman said.

The Chamber of Commerce is hoping legislation to build a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to deliver propane to the Upper Peninsula passes before the end of the year, Zimmerman said. It has already passed the Senate and heads to the House next week.

Enbridge, a Canadian energy transportation company, has agreed to finance the project, which could take up to 10 years to complete and $500 million.

Others would prefer to see less action from legislators who are term-limited or suffered electoral losses in November.

“These are unaccountable legislators, many who have been rejected by voters and will not be here to make a decision past January,” said David Waymire, a partner at Martin Waymire, the public relations firm that ran the anti-gerrymandering campaign leading up to the election.

Voters passed the ‘Voters Not Politicians’ ballot proposal 61-39 percent in November. It will create a 13-person citizen commission to redraw state and federal congressional districts. The proposed revision by the Legislature would impose a $500 fine  on someone on the commission who mischaracterizes their political affiliation.

“The Michigan public voted for a measure that is already self-executing, which means it has all the details within it that are needed to move forward,” Waymire said. “This tries to interfere with the commission’s responsibility to determine its own activities and make its own decisions.”

The bill was introduced on Nov. 29 and passed the Senate in less than a week. It awaits a vote in the House and now sits in in the Election and Ethics Committee.

Other groups choose to focus on the legislation itself rather than its journey to the Senate and House floor.

“We’re focused on whether proposed policies are good or bad, particularly as it relates to the size and scope of state government and not so much on the process of how it got there,” said Jarrett Skorup, the director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank based in Midland.

“Michigan is one of those states that swings back and forth with the control of the governorship and control in the House and Senate,” Skorup said. “Depending whether you’re in the majority or the minority, that’s what drives a lot of these complaints.”

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