Michigan lame ducks fast track bills to subvert will of people

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From press sources
with notes by Cynthia Price

Last Tuesday started the “lame duck” session of Michigan’s legislative bodies, and the senators and representatives wasted no time in making good on their promises to gut two provisions they had passed only months earlier in order to prevent them from appearing on November’s ballot.

Lame duck, which started out in England referring to stockholders who had had substantial losses, has since come to mean any politician whose successor has already been chosen. By extension, the term can be applied to the entire session that takes place in between a general election and the start of the next legislative session where the newly-elected take office.

In Michigan, the Republicans have held a majority in both houses and had a Republican governor since 2011. Now, with Governor-elect Whitmer being a Democrat, Republicans want to pass as many bills that favor their agenda as possible before she takes office in January.

Organizers collected the needed number of signatures to place both the One Fair Wage initiative and the Paid Sick?Leave question on the November 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, but the initiative also asked for an increase in the minimum wage across the board.)

Legislators, as the Michigan Constitution allows, passed laws the same as the proposed initiatives in order to keep them off the ballot, voting strictly along party lines. The Republican legislators were up-front about the two reasons they did so: 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 it, whereas the passed legislation only needs a normal majority.

So, change them they did.

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; and it increases the timeline for the overall minimum wage increase to $12 from a deadline of 2022 to one of 2030.

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.

The One Fair Wage campaign held a rally in Lansing on 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.

In response, One Fair Wage Steering Committee Chair Dr. Alicia Renee Farris commented, “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 that will result in costly, time-consuming legal challenges by voting 'No' on SB 1171.”

“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. [SB] 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.”

Both campaigns are urging people to contact their representatives in the house (where the bill has gone to the Michigan Competitiveness Committee for approval) and tell them to vote no. For a guide to which state representative to call, visit http://house.michigan.gov/citizens.asp.

There are also rumors that Governor Rick Snyder may veto the bill, but organizers hope that the situation does not come to that. Finally, if the bill is signed into law, some have promised to challenge the constitutionality of the Senate’s actions in the courts.

At the Wednesday 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 blatantly 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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