Citizens join advocates against lame duck bills

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

From statewise sources with notes by Cynthia Price, Legal News

Hundreds of protestors have been coming to Lansing over this week and the last to express their displeasure with what is going on in the Michigan Legislature’s lame duck session.

Lame duck, which refers to an elected official whose successor has already been chosen, is extended to mean the entire legislative session that takes place after an election until the end of the  year, after which those newly elected start off a new session. In Michigan, senators and representatives met the Wednesday and Thursday right after the election (Nov. 7-8), recessed, then started up with their Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday meetings on Nov. 27, and are expected to go until Dec. 21, if not longer.

Legislators wasted no time in making good on their promises to gut two provisions they passed only months earlier in order to prevent them from appearing on November’s ballot.

The Republicans have held a majority in both houses and had a Republican governor since 2011. Now, with Gov.-elect Whitmer being a Democrat, Republicans want to pass as many bills that favor their agenda as possible before she and Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson take office. (Introduced bills even include two that will weaken the powers of individuals filling those offices.)

After organizers collected the needed number of signatures to place both the One Fair Wage/minimum wage initiative and the Paid Sick?Leave question on the November ballot, legislators passed laws exactly the same as the proposed initiatives, thereby keeping them off the ballot. (The One Fair Wage campaign is so called because it is related to a national initiative to eliminate the discrepancy between what tipped workers make and others make for minimum wage.)

Some legislators were up-front about their two reasons: first, because they feared having such initiatives on the ballot would bring out an even larger percentage of lower-income voters, and second, because if it passed as an initiative, they would need a 3/4 majority to change them, whereas the passed legislation only needs a normal majority.

So, change them they did.

Even national media outlets such as the Washington Post are paying attention to what is going on in Michigan.

Senate Bill 1171 effectively eliminates all of the major provisions in the wage act. It completely eliminates the provision raising the minimum wage for tipped workers,  increasing their $3.25 hourly wage to only $4.00; increases the timeline for the overall minimum wage increase to $12 from a deadline of 2022 to one of 2030; and eliminates the provision linking increases to inflation.

The One Fair Wage campaign held a rally in Lansing last Wednesday asking that the Senate not pass the bill gutting One Fair Wage (SB 1171), but it was fast-tracked and voted on later that day.

Organizers are now focusing on state representatives.“We urge lawmakers to vote no on Senate Bill 1171 to uphold the Constitution, protect the democratic process and allow the voices of nearly half a million Michigan citizens to be heard,” DeWayne Wells, Executive Director of the Economic Alliance of Michigan, which headed the coalition promoting the campaign, said Friday.

One Fair Wage Steering Committee Chair Dr. Alicia Renee Farris stated after the rally, “Senate Bill 1171 is a cynical ploy by lawmakers to undermine the will of nearly half a million Michiganders who support raising the minimum wage. We are calling on House lawmakers to reject this unconstitutional action...”

“Our message to House lawmakers is clear — reject this illegal bill that is unfair to Michigan’s tipped and minimum wage workers,” said Joel Panozzo, owner of The Lunch Room restaurant in Ann Arbor. “Regardless of your position on raising the minimum wage or eliminating the tipped-worker wage, we can all agree lawmakers need to uphold the constitution and preserve the rule of law. [Senate Bill] 1171 is just plain wrong and smacks of dirty politics.”

The Michigan League for Public Policy’s President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs stated, “It didn’t take long for Lame Duck to get ugly, as Senate Republicans quickly moved to pass antithetical and wholesale changes to legislation that was originally intended to provide an increased minimum wage and earned sick leave for all workers. These issues were brought forth directly by the voters, and today’s action is a slap in the face of democracy and the hundreds of thousands of residents who signed the petitions.

“Workers’ rights and needs are too often overlooked by legislative leaders, especially those at the low end of the wage scale who are barely getting by, and instead of following the lead of what the people want and offering these much-needed supports, the Senate snatched away what little hope they had. Today, Senate Republicans again show how out of touch they are. The needs of our working men and women should mean something to the people elected to serve them, as should the will of the people who exercise their legal and democratic rights our state affords them. Low-paid workers are yet again getting left behind by the Senate action today while deep-pocketed business interests yet again get exactly what they want.”

The changes were slightly less broad in the paid sick leave act, but it too has the effect of ignoring the will of the people.

Since those events, Senators have introduced making deep changes to Proposal 1, passed 55%-45% by the voters, as well as Proposal 2, which was supported 61% to 39% opposing.
Putting both those changes into effect, however, requires a supermajority of three quarters for passage.

In addition, Republicans are rushing to pass bills that might be subject to veto once Gov. Whitmer takes office. These includes bills reducing wetlands protections; attacking reproductive rights; eliminating bottle returns (which also requires a 3/4 majority, since it was originally a ballot initiative); putting the Mackinac Bridge Authority in charge of the Line 5 tunnel that has been proposed in the Straits (since withdrawn); a pet shop bill revision opposed by animal rights activists that was revived from earlier in the year; elimination of release time for teacher and government union members working on union matters, causing them to have to do activities outside of work; preventing local governments from enacting ordinances on tree trimming; turning back the clock on scientific knowledge about health risk standards in environmental cleanups, which would directly affect the PFAS threat in Kent County; and derailing some regulations of Detroit casinos.

Governor Rick Snyder may veto many of the bills as well, but organizers hope to avoid putting that to the test. Finally, many organizations are saying that they will take matters to the courts, challenging constitutionality from a wide variety of viewpoints.

At the Nov. 28 rally, before Senators passed the bill, Michigan One Fair Wage Campaign Manager Pete Vargas said, “Adopting the One Fair Wage proposal only to later gut it in lame duck is bla-

tantly unconstitutional and will lead to costly time-consuming court challenges. Regardless of one’s feelings on raising the minimum wage, we expect all our elected leaders to uphold the constitution and preserve the rule of law at all times.”

 

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