WSW: The "Lame Duck" Legislature Acts, But Court Challenges Are Likely

Dec 10, 2018

State Capitol - file photo
Credit Cheyna Roth / Michigan Public Radio Network

Michigan Public Radio Network Reporter Cheyna Roth says the Michigan Supreme Court is likely to decide if changes made by the Legislature to voter initiated laws will stand.


Voters collected enough petition signatures to put laws boosting the minimum wage and requiring paid sick time before the Legislature. Lawmakers passed both laws, rather than let them go to the ballot. Then after the election scaled back both measures. If voters had approved the laws, a super majority would have required to amend them. Roth says it is all but certain there will be a court challenge once the bills are signed into law. She says Republican lawmakers are confident Governor Rick Snyder will sign the changes.

Roth and Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director Craig Mauger joined WMUK’s Gordon Evans to discuss the bills moving through the Legislature, and implications for campaign finance regulations.

Mauger says it’s common to see big money contributed and spent on both sides of most issues. But he says business groups wanting changes to the minimum wage and paid sick time laws are more active in contributing to candidate campaigns. Mauger says about 10 business groups contributed $1.1-million to lawmakers. He says there are not any big spending groups on other side of the issue “from what we can tell.”

Lawmakers are working on legislation that would shift campaign finance oversight from the Secretary of State to a new commission. Mauger says that commission seems destined to deadlock on major issues because it would consist of three Republicans and three Democrats. He says that could mean that campaign finance information will not be available to the public of watchdog groups like his.

That bill is one of many cited by Democrats as an attempt to take power before new elected officials like Jocelyn Benson take office. The Democrat was elected Secretary of State in November. Roth says Republicans insist their bill is about bipartisanship, and is modeled after federal commission. But Mauger says the FEC is not a good blueprint for effectiveness. He says the commission deadlocks on crucial issues. Mauger says he isn’t sure what problem the proposal is solving. “What’s wrong with what we have?”

Republican lawmakers are also proposing legislation that would allow the Legislature to intervene in any court case. That comes as Democrat Dana Nessel prepares to take office as Attorney General January first. Roth says it’s not accurate to say that the proposal guts power of the attorney general since the bill won’t take any power taken from the office. But she says it would give the legislature more power. Roth, who is an attorney, says the proposal raises questions about separation of powers and removing judicial discretion. Mauger notes that the change is being proposed as laws that have been passed by lawmakers could be subject to court challenges.

Another proposal related to campaign finance would ban public agencies from forcing a non-profit group to disclose their donors. Mauger says it would protect charitable groups, but also political groups. He says no other state has anything like this proposal. Mauger says it’s the latest in a series of proposals in the Michigan Legislature over the last six years to take the “teeth” out of campaign finance laws.

Michigan is among the states where national attention has focused on Republican lawmakers seeking changes just ahead of Democrats taking stateside offices. Roth says Republicans insist the ideas have been in works for a while, and it’s coming to a head now. But incoming House Speaker Lee Chatfield has acknowledged the “timing doesn’t look great.”