Thursday, December 13, 2018

Lame-duck power grabs by Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature undermine voters' will; proposed bills may be unconstitutional

How pure is our State of Michigan when our legislators attempt to undermine the will of the people? (Image courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

By Michele Bourdieu

LANSING -- Millions of Michiganders voted to pass Proposal 2 on the November 2018 ballot by an overwhelming margin, thus amending the Michigan Constitution to move redistricting out of the Legislature and to an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission that will redraw the congressional district lines every 10 years. Proposal 2, started by the group Voters Not Politicians, intends to end gerrymandering in Michigan.

Gerrymandering is dividing a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible. It gives one party an unfair political advantage.

Despite the passing of Proposal 2, the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature has allowed the Republicans to propose bills that would undermine the will of the voters as expressed in the November 2018 election. One of these is Senate Bill 1254, which is described as "a bill to provide for certain duties of the secretary of state relating to the independent citizens redistricting commission; to provide for certain rules and procedures governing the application and selection process for commissioners; to prescribe standards for establishing political party affiliation; to prohibit individuals affiliated with a political party from providing services to the commission; to provide civil sanctions; and to provide for the powers and duties of certain state and local governmental officers and entities."

According to Voters Not Politicians, Senate Bill 1254 is unconstitutional, unnecessary, and unethical. It directly undermines the self-executing redistricting reform amendment (Proposal 2 on the ballot) that was overwhelmingly supported by 61 percent of Michigan voters. Senate Bill 1254 is unnecessary because the constitutional amendment does not need or even allow involvement from the Legislature. Senate Bill 1254 is unethical because it undermines the will of the voters.*

According to Michigan's Bridge magazine SB 1254 is only one of several bills being proposed in this lame duck session that would make major changes affecting Michigan’s government, environment and more.**

On Dec. 11 outgoing Michigan Senator Tom Casperson's bill, SB 1197 for constructing a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to "protect" the aging Line 5 pipeline was passed and on Dec. 12 outgoing Governor Snyder signed it into law as Public Act 359 of 2018, despite the fact that Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel have opposed the tunnel plan and called for decommissioning Line 5.

Another of Sen. Casperson's anti-environment bills, SB 1211, "would carve out a slew of exemptions to state permitting requirements for property owners wanting to fill, dredge or build upon wetlands and lakes," according to the Bridge.**

A Dec. 5, 2018, Bridge article on Sen. Casperson states, "Casperson, who is term-limited, is behind a slew of bills that would loosen state environmental regulations in favor of industry, developers and other private property owners. The efforts include opening more wetlands and lakes to unregulated development, allowing landfills to accept more low-level radioactive waste and preempting local control over tree cutting and removal."***

House Bill 6595, on validity of signatures on initiative petitions, would amend the Michigan Election Law to set new requirements for signatures collected on initiative petitions and state that failure to comply with them would render the signatures invalid and unable to be counted.

Subjects of other lame-duck proposed bills include marijuana (changing elements of the November ballot's Proposal 1 approved by voters), changes in regulations for toxic chemicals, repeal of Michigan's 10-cent bottle deposit law, minimum wage, sick leave and other power grabs by Republicans in both the Michigan House and the Michigan Senate.**

A Dec. 11, 2018, article in The Guardian, "Courts likely to strike down Republican lame-duck power grabs, experts say,"  holds some optimism for Democrats' legal challenges to the Republican power grabs in the Michigan legislature.

"In short, some experts see the moves as a dramatic overreach by one branch of government to grab powers in the domain of others: one probably doomed to fail when it is legally challenged," the article states.

The article notes claims by legal experts that these Republican-controlled legislature efforts to limit executive power are unconstitutional.

* Click here to learn more about SB 1254 and how you can contact your state legislators to ask that they vote "NO" on SB 1254.

** Click here to read the Bridge magazine's "Lame Duck Tracker."

*** See the Bridge magazine's article on outgoing Sen. Tom Casperson, "Michigan Republican Senator: I’m no anti-environmental villain."

Editor's Note:
Michigan residents, you can contact Governor Snyder and express your views on these proposed bills by calling (517) 373-3400, (517) 335-7858 (constituent services) or emailing governorsoffice@michigan.gov.

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