GOP legislators want to bypass AG on minimum wage, sick time initiatives

By: - February 19, 2019 9:17 pm

Michigan Supreme Court | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 7:50 p.m. with comments from Rep. Darrin Camilleri:

GOP legislative leaders hope to go around the attorney general over questions on two ballot initiatives and instead go straight to the Michigan Supreme Court.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) last week asked Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, to review the GOP-controlled Legislature’s decision last year to adopt and amend two citizen-driven initiatives to increase the minimum wage and mandate paid sick time.

On Tuesday, leaders in both the House and Senate announced that they would take up formal resolutions seeking the opinion of the state Supreme Court.

It’s unclear, however, whether the high court will grant the request. The court is currently split 4-3 in favor of GOP-nominated justices. But Democratic-nominated Bridget McCormack serves as chief justice.

Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said that the Legislature’s desire for a Supreme Court opinion won’t change the attorney general’s course of action.

“We are continuing to move forward with the opinion request and will do so unless the Court accepts the Legislature’s request,” Rossman-McKinney said.

Dana Nessel after a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Feb. 19, 2019 | Ken Coleman

State Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona) on Tuesday introduced House Resolution 25. It has been referred the Government Operations Committee, which is typically reserved for hot-button issues or those that leadership doesn’t want to take up.

“Democratic leaders and the attorney general are raising questions about the bills we passed in an attempt to raise doubt about a cut-and-dried legal issue. They’re trying to pick a fight and create false doubts for political reasons,” Cole said in a statement. “By asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, we will be able to put these concerns to rest and eliminate any potential confusion on the issue once and for all.”

Triston Cole

At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), announced that the upper chamber will take up a similar resolution on Wednesday.

“The hardworking men and women of Michigan deserve better than elected officials inserting uncertainty into the law-making process in an effort to raise their own political profiles,” Shirkey said. “Our state laws impact the daily lives of every Michigander. The Senate and House would rather take this constitutional question directly to the justices and see swift action than wait out a protracted legal dispute.”

In September, the GOP-led Legislature adopted the minimum wage and sick leave measures rather than allow them to go to the ballot. There was a 1964 opinion from Democratic former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who wrote that the Legislature couldn’t adopt and amend a citizen-driven ballot initiative in the same year.

After the election, Republicans introduced legislation that watered down the progressive measures. Then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, contradicted Kelley’s opinion and said Republicans were free to do so. The Legislature voted to neuter the initiatives and the legislation was signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

“This resolution makes it clear that the House majority has doubts that its actions to adopt then gut citizen initiated laws to raise wages and guarantee paid sick leave last year were constitutional,” said state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.). “Just as we said last year, Democrats have no doubts that gutting these laws was not only undemocratic but unconstitutional, and we welcome the input of the Supreme Court and Attorney General Nessel so we can end this debate and get back to work for the people of Michigan.”

A group of business lobbyists, which supported the GOP’s actions, said over the weekend that they believe the maneuver was on solid constitutional ground.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Sen. Ed McBroom talk to reporters after rejecting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, Feb. 14, 2019 | Nick Manes

Tuesday’s move to appeal directly to the Supreme Court makes for the second time in a week that GOP legislators have sought to bypass Nessel.

The Senate followed in the House’s footsteps and killed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order reshuffling the Department of Environmental Quality. The governor has asked Nessel for an opinion on oversight boards that she would have shuttered as part of the measure.

Asked by the Advance last week the GOP-led Senate didn’t wait for an attorney general opinion before voting down Whitmer’s order, Shirkey said he felt the AG opinion would be a foregone conclusion.

“You always find what you’re looking for. I suspect it was pretty predictable, [what] the attorney general’s opinion would be and probably wouldn’t change the outcome of this action,” Shirkey said at the time.

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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.