Capitol News

September 9, 2018

As predicted, the scheduled August 15 legislative session was an administrative formality without attendance taken or any voting as most were busy on the campaign trail. However the scheduled September 5 and 6 sessions were very active. The Legislature is scheduled to take two weeks off and return September 25 through October 5.

Primary Election Highlights

Record turnout — A total of 2,106,944 voters cast ballots in Michigan’s August 7 primary, establishing a new record. The total number of voters was nearly 500,000 more than voted in the 2002 primary which produced Jennifer Granholm and Dick Posthumous as gubernatorial candidates from contested contests in the two major parties and which set the previous record for August primary turnout. The August 7 primary produced 800,000+ more voters than in the 2014 August primary. The turnout may have been driven by growing voter engagement since the surprise 2016 presidential election results, the increasing engagement of female candidates and voters, and three open Congressional seats. In House primaries, 58 of the 110 seats will see one or more female candidates running.

13th CD — In the 13th Congressional district previously held by U.S. Rep. John Conyers who resigned mid-term, former State Representative Rashida Tlaib bested Westland MayorBill Wildand Detroit City Council PresidentBrenda Jonesin the Democratic primary. Quixotically, Jones won the partial term seat to complete Conyers term. Since this is a heavily Democratic district, Tlaib will likely be the first Muslim-American female elected to Congress.

Unknown ousts incumbent — In a stunning historic victory, Betty Jean Alexander, a 53-year-old single mother of two who holds a $15 an hour clerical position in the Wayne County Clerk’s office and who didn’t campaign and spent nothing other than the filing fee of $100 on her campaign, ousted incumbentSen. David Knezek in the 5th State Senate District race with 54.5 percent of the vote. The district is mostly in Detroit and mostly African-American. Knezak lives in the Dearborn Heights part of the district. Alexander’s sponsor, campaign manager, policy advisor and brother-in-law, former Rep. LaMar Lemons III, said in interviews that they ran a stealth campaign with home-made flyers and phone calls. Knezek benefited in 2014 by running against a crowded field of Detroiters in the Democratic primary.

Local millages succeed — While many candidates run on platforms that include reducing or eliminating taxes and thus limiting government services and regulation, voters in Michigan chose overwhelmingly to raise their local taxes on August 7. Only 40 of the 838 local government funding proposals on the ballot were rejected. Of the 270 requests for tax increases, voters approved 88 percent of them including in East Lansing which joined 22 other cities in Michigan by adopting an income tax. Public safety, roads, parks and recreation, and school bonds or sinking funds for school maintenance did very well. All proposed 28 millage increases for senior services passed.

GENERAL ELECTION ROUNDUP

No straight-party voting option — For the first time since 1891, Michigan voters will not be allowed to have a straight-party voting option on the November 6 ballot. Straight-ticket voting allows voters to fill in one box on the ballot to support all candidates of one party all the way down the ballot. Local clerks have said the option has helped speed voting lines, which tend to get long, especially in urban areas.

Republican majority legislators have tried to eliminate the option twice over the years — in 1964 and again in 2001 —but voters overwhelmingly repealed those laws in subsequent voter referendums. A 2015 Republican-sponsored bill to get rid of straight-ticket voting included a $5 million appropriation to purchase voting equipment. Adding the money made the bill immune from a statewide vote to repeal the law under the Michigan Constitution. The Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute sought to preserve the straight ticket option through a lawsuit because elimination of straight party voting was motivated primarily to suppress African-American votes it contended.

But late on September 7, the last day for ballot changes, the U.S. Supreme Court on a 6-2 vote (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting), denied an emergency application to vacate the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ stay on a lower court ruling that held the 2015 law eliminating the straight ticket voting option was unconstitutional. However, the high court decision does not overturn the August 1st U.S. District Court ruling thatPA 268 of 2015was unconstitutional, and arguments and a decision on a full appeal have not been held or reached yet.

Voter/driver’s license address challenge — On August 31, college Democrats at MSU and U of M and the Michigan Federation of College Democrats filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the 1999 “Roger’s Law” requiring a person to use the same address for their driver’s license as their voter registration, saying it disenfranchises college students. The lawsuit says the statute leaves college students confused about whether they can register to vote using their college address and whether there are negative consequences to changing the address on their driver’s license. Further, Michigan law prohibits first-time voters from voting via absentee ballot, which frustrates the ability of college students to vote because they are often first-time voters who then cannot cast an absentee ballot while registered to vote at their parents’ address far away from where they are living on or near their campus. The law was sponsored by then-Sen. Mike Rogers, who was running for the U.S. House seat with MSU in the district. He won an extremely close race, and Democrats have always felt that had more MSU students been able to vote, then-Sen. Dianne Byrum would have won.

Independent AG candidate — By U.S. Court of Appeals order after a legal challenge, independent Attorney General candidate Chris Graveline will appear on the November ballot along with Republican Tom Leonard, Democrat Dana Nessel, Libertarian Lisa Lane Gioia, and US Taxpayers, Gerald T. Van Sickle, all four of whom were nominated at their respective party’s convention. A 1988 state law requires an independent candidate to collect 30,000 voter signatures; Graveline collected only 14,000 signatures before the deadline and sued. The trial court held that the 30,000-signature threshold for independent candidates in Michigan was an unconstitutional hindrance to individuals looking to qualify for the ballot, that 5,000 signatures was more reasonable.

BALLOT PROPOSALS

Thirteen ballot proposals were initiated in this election cycle, five completed the process and had sufficient valid signatures to be certified for the ballot, but only three will appear on the November 6 ballot. That is because on September 5, the Legislature adopted the minimum wage and earned paid sick leave voter-initiated laws despite the fact that the Republican majority in general dislikes employer mandates and these laws in particular. The laws will take effect in March 2019.

Under the Michigan Constitution’s process for voter-initiated laws, if a voter-initiated law goes to the ballot and is adopted by voters, it would take a majority of the Legislature to amend it thereafter. If the Legislature adopts the voter-initiated law, it doesn’t go to the voters and would only take a simple majority to amend it subsequently. The Legislature also has the option of putting its own proposed law on the ballot to compete with the voter-initiated law.

The question now is whether the Legislature can amend these laws in the same session as it was adopted, such as in Lame Duck session after the November 6 election. A 1964 attorney general opinion from then-Attorney General Frank Kelley declares a voter-initiated law enacted by the Legislature cannot be amended until the next legislative session. AG opinions are binding on state government until a court determines otherwise. Republicans claim there is no case law to back up the AG opinion.

If the Democrats flip one chamber and/or take the Governor’s office on November 6, Republicans will want to pass their amendments to the two laws in Lame Duck before Democrats take over in January. Democrats and proponents of the voter-initiated laws have stated they plan to challenge in the courts any attempt by Republicans to amend the new laws before the end of the 2017-18 legislative term.

The three surviving proposals — On the statewide ballot will be a voter-initiated law legalizing and regulating marijuana, and two constitutional amendments concerning redistricting and voting rights. The 100-word summaries approved by the Board of State Canvassers that will appear on the bottom of the ballot for the three proposals are:

Proposal 18-1

A proposed initiated law to authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age and older, and commercial sales of marijuana through state-licensed retailers

The proposal would:

  • Allow individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption.
  • Impose a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at residences and require amounts over 2.5 ounces be secured in locked containers.
  • Create a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them.
  • Permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles subject to a 10% tax, dedicated to implementation costs, clinical trials, schools, roads, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located.
  • Change several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.

Proposal 18-2

A proposed constitutional amendment to establish a commission of citizens with exclusive authority to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives and U.S. Congress, every 10 years

This proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Create a commission of 13 registered voters randomly selected by the Secretary of State:
    • 4 each who self-identify as affiliated with the 2 major political parties; and
    • 5 who self-identify as unaffiliated with major political parties.
  • Prohibit partisan officeholders and candidates, their employees, certain relatives, and lobbyists from serving as commissioners.
  • Establish new redistricting criteria including geographically compact and contiguous districts of equal population, reflecting Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest. Districts shall not provide disproportionate advantage to political parties or candidates.
  • Require an appropriation of funds for commission operations and commissioner compensation.

Proposal 18-3

A proposal to authorize automatic and Election Day voter registration, no-reason absentee voting, and straight ticket voting; and add current legal requirements for military and overseas voting and postelection audits to the Michigan Constitution.

This proposed constitutional amendment would allow a United States citizen who is qualified to vote in Michigan to:

  • Become automatically registered to vote when applying for, updating or renewing a driver’s license or state-issued personal identification card, unless the person declines.
  • Simultaneously register to vote with proof of residency and obtain a ballot during the 2-week period prior to an election, up to and including Election Day.
  • Obtain an absent voter ballot without providing a reason.
  • Cast a straight-ticket vote for all candidates of a particular political party when voting in a partisan general election.
OTHER NEWS

Retiree health care — A hearing was held in the House Financial Liability Reform Committee on September 5 concerning HB 5918 H-1, which would amend the Public Employee Retirement Benefits Forfeiture Act to require forfeiture of retiree health benefits for those who resign or are terminated from state employment for cause of willful and wanton neglect of duty. The 1994 law was amended in 2017 to require termination of pension benefits for a state employee convicted of a felony arising out of their public service. SERA, AFL-CIO, UAW Local 6000, AFSCME and some other organizations put in cards opposing the bill as introduced. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township).

Negotiation impasse — As of September 6, seven state government unions and management have requested impasse assistance from the Civil Service Commission though the parties continue in negotiations. In September 2017 the Commission reduced the number of topics that unions and management could bargain about, thus ceding to management exclusive jurisdiction to decide, for instance, layoff, bumping, overtime scheduling and transfers. An MSEA spokesperson said this wiped out about a third of their contract.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

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