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‘Shame duck’ tradition is alive and well

Michigan residents have good reason to be cynical about our democratic process these days, as state House and Senate leadership continues its tradition of flouting accepted lawmaking practices during the “lame duck” season.

Lame duck refers to the period after an election when term-limited, retiring or defeated lawmakers return to office before their successors take their seats.

First, fearing that popular ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and establish paid sick time would be approved by voters, and thus need a three-fourths majority in each legislative chamber to be changed later, Republicans in September introduced the proposals in their exact form as legislative bills that would need only a simple majority to change.

The bills were passed quickly in both chambers and became law.

Then, immediately after the election, the same Republicans introduced two bills that weakened the two new laws and set a hearing for those bills for Nov. 28 at 8:15 a.m. And, finally, just minutes before that early morning hearing, Republican leadership replaced those bills with substitute bills that hollowed out the substance of the minimum wage and paid sick leave laws even further, leaving advocates and the public almost no time to read the bills before the hearing began (as an advocate, it was frustrating to testify on a bill I had not even had a chance to read–but it was still necessary to speak up!). The full Senate passed the bills that afternoon. On Dec. 4, the House passed a mostly similar bill (with some changes worked out with the Senate) and the bill was sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.

The bill the Legislature sent to the governor guts the ballot proposal that Michigan voters expected to have a chance to vote on. While the ballot proposal covered ALL full- and part-time workers, the bill sent to the governor excludes at least 55 percent of Michigan workers from eligibility for required paid sick leave. The bill also allows employers’ current vacation time and paid time off policies to put them in compliance as long as they equal the number of hours mandated for sick time–even though vacation time usually requires advance notice, while sick time is granted as needed on short notice (people usually do not plan ahead to be sick!).

The bill sent to the governor also makes other changes to the ballot proposal. Under the ballot proposal, workers would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, but the Legislature’s bill changes that to one hour of sick time for every 35 hours worked. The ballot proposal allowed up to 70 hours of sick time per year, and the Legislature lowered it to 40 hours. Finally, the ballot proposal required that workers begin earning sick time from the day they begin employment, while the Legislature requires workers to be covered only after they’ve worked at least 90 days for their employer.

Lame duck shenanigans are not new to this Legislature. Many readers probably remember how so-called “right-to-work” policies were rammed through during the 2012 lame duck season with no legislative hearings at all–flouting the long practice of holding hearings, adding amendments and receiving testimony from the public when taking up important and controversial bills.

That scenario earned the nickname “shame duck,” as it was clearly a power play designed to thwart opposition and established democratic processes in order to achieve a partisan goal.

The severe changes to the latest proposals dismiss the needs of workers and the intent of voters, and undercut the supports Michigan’s working men and women need. The governor has until Dec. 18 to sign or veto these bills. We hope the governor will do the right thing and reject these destructive replacements for the proposals that were supposed to go to the voters to decide.

Contact Gov. Snyder today and ask him to veto Senate Bills 1171 and 1175!

Peter Ruark is senior policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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