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College Dems, GOP at odds over Legislature's adoption of proposals

September 20, 2018
The Michigan State Capitol on July 3, 2018.
The Michigan State Capitol on July 3, 2018. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Michigan’s majority-Republican Legislature approved two ballot initiatives that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 and require employers to provide paid sick time to their employees.

By approving the measures on Sept. 5, the Legislature made it easier to potentially amend the proposals at a later date. Michigan law mandates if the initiatives are approved by voters, amendments would require a three-fourths vote in both legislative chambers. If approved by the Legislature, however, the laws can be amended with a simple majority.

“Instead of debating the proposals on their merits, the Republicans decided to pass the bills, fully intending for them not to be implemented,” President of the MSU College Democrats Eli Pales said. “It’s pretty evident that there will be large changes made to the proposals as they were originally written and intended.”

Both initiatives made it through the Senate with two separate 24-13 votes, split almost entirely along party lines. The proposals held more bipartisan support in the House, with both passing 78-28 with the support of 22 Democrats and most Republicans.

Under the proposal as written, Michigan’s minimum wage would rise to $10 in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021, and $12 in 2022 with the potential for additional increases in the future.

The minimum wage initiative would eliminate a separate minimum wage for tipped staff that is currently set at $3.52 per hour, significantly lower than the state’s current minimum hourly wage of $9.25. It would also gradually raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour for all workers by 2024.

“I think right now the minimum wage increase to $9.25 is an appropriate amount, so I hope they go back and revise it and fine-tune it for the state,” said Ben Wright, events chair for the MSU College Republicans. “If they retain majorities in the House and Senate, I think they will. Even if they lose, they’ll have a lame duck session after the election so I think they’re very, very likely to do it.”

Because they were “initiated ... by the people,” the proposals do not need the governor’s approval and are law. The Legislature may amend them after the Nov. 6 general election. They do not go into effect until next year.

Passing the proposals in the Legislature also means that the initiatives will not appear in front of voters on the November ballot, which can affect turnout — potential voters who may have felt strongly about the initiatives may now have less motivation to go to the polls.

“Adopting this measure today is nothing more than a classic bait and switch,” Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said in a floor speech, before calling the vote “an attack on our democracy.” 

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, shared a similar sentiment on the Senate floor, noting that he has sponsored legislation to mandate paid sick leave in every legislative session since he was first elected in 2013.

“I’m not convinced that the other side of the aisle truly cares about this,” Ananich said.

Mark Brewer, an attorney for the groups behind both ballot proposals and a former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said that the Legislature amending the bills after adopting them to avoid a vote would be unconstitutional.

“It violates the Michigan Constitution — Article II, Section IX — for the Legislature to enact a proposal and then amend it in the same session,” Brewer said. “Their choices are reject, adopt or reject and put another proposal on the ballot.”

Brewer said One Fair Wage, the group behind the minimum wage proposal, will go to court if the Legislature attempts to amend the ballot proposal.

The Michigan Legislature has approved ballot initiatives seven times since the state’s constitution was ratified in 1963, but making amendments to those initiatives would be a first.

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