Lawmakers walk out amid protest after panel advances bills cramping powers of new governor, AG

By: - December 4, 2018 10:48 pm

Gretchen Whitmer (left) and Dana Nessel (right)

A controversial bill to allow the Michigan Legislature to “intervene” in any state legal case moved forward after a House committee ending hearing ended early due to protest, all while a false alarm bomb scare played out one block away.

Rob VerHeulen

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker), has come under fire due to the timing of its introduction as a new governor, attorney general and secretary of state — all Democrats and all women — prepare to take office next month. Gretchen Whitmer was elected governor, Dana Nessel is the incoming attorney general and Jocelyn Benson is secretary of state-elect.

The bill has drawn comparisons to similar legislation in Wisconsin, which critics say would curb the powers of the incoming Democratic governor.

The legislation passed out of the House Government Operations Committee on a 3-2 vote. The move immediately drew censure from interest groups like the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, who issued a statement expressing concern over the “shocking disregard … for the democratic process in our state.

“The bills introduced to change the rules and strip power from our incoming elected leaders is an embarrassing partisan ploy that could have devastating consequences on our environment, Great Lakes and public health. These bills are being offered by entirely men and are clearly designed to limit the role that newly elected women will play in our state’s governance,” stated board members of the environmental organization.

But VerHeulen said in his committee testimony that he believes the legislations has received “inappropriate attention” and that the bill largely further codifies powers the Legislature already has.

“This bill would simply say that if the House or Senate — or both — wanted to participate in pending litigation, it could do so,” VerHeulen said. “On its own behalf. It is not supplanting the responsibility of the attorney general … to step in on behalf of the people of Michigan whenever the attorney general decides it would be appropriate.”

Many protestors in the committee room weren’t buying it, however. Two protestors — who were ejected early on — led committee members to declare that if another interruption occurred they would vote immediately and recess the meeting.

About 15 minutes later, that happened.

Christine Greig

Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills), the incoming House minority leader, pointed out to VerHeulen that the state appropriation for the attorney general to review 40,000 cases per year stands at $100 million. Bringing on additional outside attorneys to assist in cases where the Legislature chooses to intervene would add to that cost, according to Greig.

“When we have roads to fix and schools to fund and health care plans to fund, how can you possibly justify setting up this parallel organization when we already have an attorney general and a process in place to take care of these issues?” Greig said.

Greig’s statement led to two minutes of sustained applause from members in the audience, culminating in a quiet vote — that couldn’t be heard by the Advance — and committee members walking out.  

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.