Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas
Following an unusual procedural move from Senate Republicans to push back against Democrats’ now-passed tax relief plan earlier this month, Democratic leadership came back last week with punitive measures for two of the Republicans involved — plus a potential rule change that could help the new majority skirt around the chamber’s immediate effect rule.
Democrats found their vote on the tax plan delayed by a week when Republicans adjourned the Senate early in a surprise move on Feb. 7, before the upper chamber was able to cast votes.
Following through on her promise to have an “appropriate response” to the GOP’s procedural maneuver, several measures from Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) on Thursday stripped Senate Minority Floor Leader Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway) and state Sen. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) of certain leadership powers. Both had been involved in the delay tactics over House Bill 4001.
Senate Resolution 11 makes a single amendment to the standing rules of the Michigan Senate to eliminate the associate president pro tempore position completely. Bellino had previously held the position, which had made him the fourth-highest ranking member of the Senate.
The resolution was adopted along party lines. Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) called the move “historically wrong.”
“It’s unfortunate that forging ahead on a rules change without discussion, without negotiations with the Senate minority is highly suspect but historically wrong,” Nesbitt said. “ … The one thing I know that’s in the rule changes was an elimination of a position and I think it stems from some of the things last week.
“We did so because the final bill that was about to be jammed through this body had not been seen in its entirety until about five hours prior,” Nesbitt continued, criticizing the tax bill that he called “the governor’s [Gretchen Whitmer] secret scheme.”
Brinks then offered up Senate Resolution 12, which would amend the standing rules of the Senate by slightly altering wording regarding immediate effect votes. These votes allow bills to go into effect right away, instead of next year.
Instead of requiring that the electronic voting system be used to make a roll call vote — where two-thirds of the chamber must approve — the new language notes that it “may” be used. The presiding officer may also conduct a voice vote even if the electronic voting system is in use.
Democrats have a slim 20-18 majority, so any immediate effect votes as of now have required GOP support to reach the two-thirds threshold. This historically has been a way that the minority party could exercise some power on more controversial bills. However, after a contentious start to the term, there’s been concern from majority Democrats that Republicans will not lend their votes to give most bills immediate effect and procedural reforms are needed to govern.
The House has given immediate effect to bills via voice votes for decades, under both Democratic and Republican leadership.
The resolution was referred to the Senate Government Operations Committee.
Communications from Brinks’ office were then read, replacing Bellino and Lauwers in their committee leadership positions while removing them entirely from two committees.
Both were removed from their seats on the Senate Energy and Environment Committee and the Senate Regulatory Affairs Committee.
State Sen. John DaMoose (R-Harbor Springs) was appointed minority vice chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, replacing Lauwers; state Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) was appointed minority vice chair of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, replacing Bellino.
“Senate Democrats are punishing me for doing everything in my power as a member of the Senate to bring more transparency to a scheme designed to take away a tax cut from all Michigan residents,” Bellino said in a statement Thursday.
“They can strip me of whatever pro tempore title they wish, but I will not remain silent as they work to silence my voice in this chamber.”
In his own statement, Lauwers defended his actions while calling the punitive measures an “abhorrent abuse of power.”
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