‘Adopt and amend’ a bad policy for Michigan Legislature
The will of the people is one of the most crucial tenets in American democracy, but apparently to many politicians in Michigan, and perhaps elsewhere, power and control seem to be more important concepts.
The “adopt and amend” tactic used last year by Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature to maneuver around voter-driven ballot drives may set a precedent that, in our opinion, would severely harm the ability of the electorate to propose and ultimately decide important issues, such as minimum wage and sick time laws.
The tactic is being argued before the Michigan Supreme Court, and could be a lengthy legal battle.
Under the Michigan Constitution, a group can collect hundreds of thousands of voter signatures to qualify an initiated bill for a November ballot, The Associated Press reported. Legislators then have a 40-day window in which they can enact it, reject it — putting it to a statewide vote — or propose an alternative to appear alongside the measure on the ballot.
To prevent minimum wage and sick time ballot drives from going before voters in November, after which they would have been much harder to change if voters had passed them, GOP legislators approved them in September so they could be made more business-friendly after the election with simple majority votes and the signature of the outgoing Republican governor, Rick Snyder.
Legislators can amend citizen-initiated laws at any time, but for that to occur, a higher majority of supporting votes must be cast, meaning the citizen-initiated law is harder for lawmakers to change than one adopted by the Legislature.
Since the Legislature approved the minimum wage and sick time measures before they were put on the ballot, lawmakers could more easily make changes they deemed appropriate.
One of the two new laws at stake gradually increases the state’s $9.45 minimum wage to $12.05 an hour by 2030, instead of to $12 by 2022, as was initially enacted. So, with simple majorities, lawmakers OK’d changes to increase minimum wage by 5 cents from what was initially adopted, but workers will have to wait eight years longer to see it. Fair trade?
The other law exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick days, a change that could leave up to 1 million employees without the benefit — unlike what was proposed by the initiative. It also limits the amount of annual mandatory leave at larger employers to 40 hours, instead of 72 hours.
Some might say the 2030 deadline will give businesses time to better prepare for that minimum wage increase. Maybe so, but by that time, who knows what the wealth gap in our country will be or how much inflation will have further burdened our already financially-strapped citizens.
Others will say that raising wages only means inflation, causing the cost of everything else to go up. But isn’t that already the case? Many goods and services have already jumped up in price, but wages have remained relatively stagnant.
And as unrest mounts with workers seeing fewer benefits and pay raises while business execs and shareholders take home lavish salaries and bigger profits, the voice of the people is silenced by maneuvers like the adopt and amend strategy used by our Legislature.
Considering the level of distrust in our governments, many people already feel they’re playing a rigged game, and this tactic only adds to the feeling of a disenfranchised populace.
Regardless of what is being proposed, the point is the people have proposed it, and the electorate should be the body to decide the outcome.
Unfortunately, this adopt and amend strategy subverts that effort.
With a simple majority, legislators can OK a proposal and gut it to their liking, leaving the people to deal with the scraps or start the petition process again from scratch. This process is much easier when a single political party holds all three branches of our state Legislature, as was the case last year.
To petition the government for a redress of grievances is a right permitted by the U.S. Constitution.
Any maneuver to subdue that in any fashion, including adopting the measure and making substantial changes to it, subjugates the will of the people to the control of those few in power.