The most recent Lame Duck session, the period following the November election through the end of the 2011-2012 session, was the most tumultuous during my 12 years in Michigan’s Legislature. Leading up to the 4:30am adjournment of the last day of session, hundreds of bills were passed, most without public debate or public committee hearings. Some bills were discharged directly to the floor without a hearing and amended on the fly with no time to properly consider the language until minutes before other legislators and I had to cast a vote. This disregard for the legislative process, nothing less than a subversion of democracy, has become all too familiar in the single-party controlled houses of the legislature. Michigan would be well served to take a closer look at how its legislature has been doing business of late and consider some changes that might lead to better policy making and better policy.
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Legislation passed in the year end flurry of activity included the controversial Right-to-Work legislation, a bill that would eliminate Gun Free Zones like schools and hospitals which thankfully the Governor vetoed, and a re-write of the Emergency Financial Manager which was recently repealed by the voters in November. Then, adding insult to injury, legislation making it more difficult to recall elected officials made its way through both chambers, insulating from public ire the same lawmakers that voted on these controversial issues. All of these items should have received lengthy discussion and debate, a chance to move properly through the committee process, and an opportunity for the public to weigh in on their merits and faults.
Lame Duck session should be reserved for bills of necessity, not exploited as a period where legislators have political cover due to the recently decided election and term limited members. This year I have introduced Senate Joint Resolution B for the new legislative session. This Resolution seeks to amend Michigan’s Constitution to provide restrictions on the legislature limiting Lame Duck sessions to only those issues that are absolutely necessary. The resolution would allow the legislature to meet after a general election in an even year only in cases of emergency and then only if 2/3 of both the House and Senate vote to hold an emergency session and only to vote on items specified at the outset in proclamation by the Governor. Additionally, it would demand that all bills passed during the emergency session receive a 2/3 majority for passage, ensuring that only the matters agreed to at the outset be dealt with during that time.
The current Republican majority has also resorted to regularly using a tactic that includes unnecessary appropriations in the most controversial bills, exploiting a clause of the State Constitution and making them referendum-proof by voters. This provision of the Constitution intended to prevent citizens from overturning parts of the State Budget and throwing the state’s finances into disarray. This out-of-control majority has resorted to using it as a political tool to “referendum-proof” many unpopular policy bills. The first emergency manager law for example, was in November repealed by popular vote, and the supporters of the second version of the bill made sure to include a small appropriation as it sailed through the legislature in the early hours of the morning. I have taken action by introducing Senate Joint Resolution C, which would stipulate that the immunity of appropriations bills does not include legislation that contains substantive policy. It would require policy and appropriation bills to be treated separately as they should be.
The growing trend of using tricks and a policy of anti-transparency as a way to end around or ignore the will of the people should disturb voters. These two resolutions are immediate steps we can take to prohibit some of the more egregious tactics recently employed. Whether they will be given a fair hearing and full consideration remains to be seen, but hopefully they will fuel a discussion about the broader question of what direction our state government is headed. I urge you to contact your legislator and ask them to support Senate Joint Resolutions B and C. At the end of the day, the voters are the last line of defense holding elected officials accountable and must remain vigilant to protecting their ability to do so.