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Abortion, civil rights, Right to Work, prevailing wage: It was a busy day in Michigan's Legislature

Four lawmakers sit in a row behind a wooden dais.
Joey Cappelletti/AP
Democratic state Reps., from left, Denise Mentzer, Matt Koleszar, Joey Andrews, Jaime Churches and Dylan Wegela, listen as testimony is given during a House Labor Committee meeting, Wednesday, March 8 , 2023, in Lansing, on repealing the state's right-to-work law and restoring prevailing wages.

The state Senate approved repealing Michigan's abortion ban; the state House approved civil rights protections for LGBTQ Michiganders. Votes on two labor issues are expected Wednesday night.

(MPRN) Michigan lawmakers considered bills related to no less than four major issues on Wednesday.

LGBTQ civil rights
Two bills to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ individuals passed the Michigan House Wednesday.

One is a Senate bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the list of protected classes covered under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The other is a House mirror of that legislation.

Representative Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield) sponsored the House version.

“This is going to help so many people truly live their authentic selves now. I am so grateful that there are going to be so many people who now grow up in a Michigan where they can be their true selves,” Hoskins told reporters following the vote.

Before the vote, several Republicans submitted amendments that would have added religious exemptions to the legislation. Each was shot down.

Representative Rachelle Smit (R-Shelbyville) said the added protections would go against the spirit of the civil rights law when it passed in the 1970s.

“While I fully support this original intent of the Elliott-Larsen Act and understand the importance of protecting individuals from discrimination, I also believe that it is crucial to respect the religious beliefs of small business owners and employers,” Smit said.

Supporters of the civil rights expansion dismissed the religious exemption concerns, saying Michigan and federal law already provide for religious protections.

“I value those protections. And they will not be used to discriminate. Not today. We are done. We are here. We are seen. And we are loved,” Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) said during a floor speech.

The legal protections in the bills would codify and expand upon previous rulings from both the Michigan and U.S. Supreme Courts. The Michigan ruling is facing a challenge over its scope.

Both bills passed the Michigan Legislature by a margin of 64-45, with eight Republicans crossing sides. Many lawmakers have noted this was the result of a years-long effort.

Rep. Hoskins said he wasn’t aware of how much bipartisan support the bills would get.

“There has certainly been a lot of support always for making sure that the LGBTQ community is protected in law, and I think if the option was presented to them in past legislatures. I think if the vote came up, I think many Republicans would have voted then,” Hoskins said.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signaled support for the legislation in the past. During her State of the State address in January, she said “bigotry is bad for business.”

The state Senate adopted bills Wednesday to repeal Michigan’s dormant abortion ban. The Senate action will send the bills to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has promised to sign them.

Repealing the 1931 law was high on the list of Democratic priorities in this session, and the Senate votes fell along party lines. The law is moot due to a voter-approved amendment to the Michigan Constitution.

But Senator Rosemary Bayer (D-Keego Harbor) said the Legislature should strike the law out of respect for what voters decided when they adopted the reproductive rights amendment.

“They voted to maintain the right of all Michiganders to make their own healthcare decisions, to make their own family planning decisions, to decide what happens to their own bodies,” she said. “These bills simply remove old language that prohibits that freedom.”

The bills to repeal the abortion law were adopted on party-line votes.

“I will not vote in support of what is before this body today,” said Senator Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe). “I encourage a ‘no’ vote on this legislation and hope to see my colleagues propose changes to protect the rights of parents as well as the most disenfranchised among us – the unborn.”

Republicans like Senator Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said the amendment should allow room for some restrictions.

“That is certainly some creative marketing,” he said. “Abortion is not health care for the unborn child.”

“Let me remind you, a person’s reproductive health care decisions, including abortion, is none of your business,” said Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), who called the dormant statute a “zombie law” that doesn’t reflect the will of voters.

Right to Work and Prevailing Wage
Bills to repeal Michigan’s Right to Work law and once again require government contracts to pay union-level wages are heading to the full House floor.

Supporters say Right to Work is anti-union and say getting rid of prevailing wage requirements has negatively affected project quality and job safety. They argue allowing non-union members to benefit from collective bargaining without paying their fair share weakens unions and divides workers.

Jessica Smith is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. She says she’s faced that personally in her workplace.

“It causes a divide, it causes workplace anger. All kinds of negative feelings that don’t need to be there. We need to stick together so we can get what’s best for everyone," she said.

But Jonas Peterson with Southwest Michigan First said employers prefer Right to Work states for investment.

“For some job creation projects, states that do not have right to work are simply not considered. We aren’t even in the game," he said.

Democratic House leadership plans to pass both bills out of the chamber Wednesday evening or night.