Lesgislative Report as of Nov. 2018
After a hard-fought election, the next governor of Michigan will be Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. While Democrats made gains in both the House and Senate, Republicans kept their majorities in both chambers. The Legislature is returning to Lansing for the “Lame Duck” session that could include several attempts to make more changes to various pension laws. We may also face attacks on public employee collective bargaining rights as the Republican leaders see the next few weeks as their last chance before a new Democratic administration takes over.
More on these issues below.
2018 Election Results
Democrat Gretchen Whitmer will be the next governor of Michigan, and Garlan Gilchrest will be the Lieutenant Governor, after they defeated Republicans Bill Schuette and Lisa Posthumus Lyons in the November 6 election. Democrats clinched the top of the ticket races, with Jocelyn Benson defeating Mary Treder Lang for Secretary of State, and Dana Nessel edging Tom Leonard for Attorney General. Senator Debbie Stabenow was also elected to a fourth term after surviving a strong challenge from political newcomer John James. Democrats were also able to flip two U.S. House seats with Haley Stevens defeating Lena Epstein in the 11th District and Elissa Slotkin defeating Mike Bishop in the 8th. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) staved off a tough challenge from Democrat Matt Longjohn to win his 17th term and avoid being the third Democratic pickup in Michigan’s Congressional delegation. In the 13th District in Southeast Michigan, Rashida Tlaib won her race becoming the first Muslim-American woman ever to be elected to Congress.
For the state legislative races, the “Blue Wave” that would have been necessary for Democrats to win majorities in the State House and State Senate failed to materialize. The success at the top of the ticket did not translate to the huge gains they would have needed to overcome large Republican majorities in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature. The Democrats picked up five seats in the State House and five seats in the State Senate to bring the partisan totals for next year to 58-52 GOP in the House and 22-16 GOP in the Senate. Both caucuses held their official leadership elections on November 8. The next Speaker of the Michigan House will be Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), and the next Senate Majority Leader will be Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake). Democrats re-elected Jim Ananich (D-Flint) as Senate Minority Leader, and chose Christine Grieg (D-Farmington Hills) to be the House Minority Leader.
Elsewhere on the ballot, three constitutional changes were approved as Proposals 1, 2 and 3 all passed by large margins. Proposal 1 will legalize the sale of marijuana in Michigan for recreational use to persons age 21 and older. Proposal 2 will create an independent redistricting commission to draw legislative maps. Proposal 3 makes numerous changes to voting laws, including restoration of straight party voting and no reason absentee voting. Republican Justice Beth Clement was overwhelmingly reelected to the Michigan Supreme Court, but her Republican colleague Justice Kurtis Wilder was defeated by Democratic challenger Megan Cavanagh.
Michigan voters also selected candidates for statewide educational boards. Bryan Barnhill and Dr. Anil Kumar were elected to the Wayne State Board of Governors, Brianna Scott and Kelly Tebay were elected to the MSU Board of Trustees, Jordan Acker and Paul Brown were elected to the U of M Board of Regents, and Judy Pritchett and Tiffany Tilley were elected to the State Board of Education. Both the House and the Senate will be in session tomorrow before a two week break. House session is currently scheduled for the weeks of November 27th, December 4th, December 11th, and December 18th . Senate session is currently scheduled for November 27th, December 4th, December 11th, with tentative session scheduled for the week of December 18th
Lucido Retirement Forfeiture Bill Amended in Committee
The House Financial Liability Reform Committee took up House Bill 5918, sponsored by Representative Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) on November 8. The bill as introduced would allow an employer that is a member of a state-run retirement system to take away retirement health care benefits from any employee who resigns or is terminated for cause of willful and wanton neglect of duty.
Current law allows the forfeiture of pension benefits for employees of state-operated pension plans (State Employees Retirement System, the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, the Judges Retirement System, the State Police Retirement System, and the Michigan Legislative Retirement System). However, the forfeiture is limited only to employees who are found guilty of a felony involving a breach of the public trust. HB 5918 originally would have allowed forfeiture of retiree health care benefits for a much broader set of circumstances.
The committee amended the bill so that potential forfeiture of retiree health care benefits must meet the same criteria as potential forfeiture of pension benefits – namely, a breach of the public trust. This narrowing of the bill a good thing for public employees since it at least requires there be a criminal finding of wrongdoing specifically related to felonies such as embezzlement or fraud before one’s retiree health care could be taken away. The bill was reported out of committee and is awaiting action on the House floor.
Lame Duck Session could be Perilous for Public Employees
Though the election is over, the current Legislature has another few weeks to act on bills in the 2017-18 session. This period between the election and the seating of newly elected lawmakers is known as the Lame Duck Session, since it is a time when outgoing legislators can still enact laws even though they will not have to face the voters again. It was during the Lame Duck session of 2012 that “Right to Work” legislation was passed, and there is no shortage of further mischief that this Legislature might push before the end of the year.
Public employees stand the most to lose, since the Michigan Legislature has complete jurisdiction over their collective bargaining rights (private sector workers are covered by federal law). Among the issues the state House and Senate could take up in the next few weeks include:
House Bill 4399 (Glenn); requires all public employee unions to hold a recertification vote every two years.
House Bill 6474 (Johnson); prohibits union leave time for public employees.
House Bill 6198 (Albert); repeal requirement for exclusive representation in collective bargaining.
And although there hasn’t been a bill introduced yet, there is a chance that the current Legislature could attempt to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees altogether similar to the way they did in Wisconsin several years ago. Another potential hazard for state employees is the chance for more revenue cuts in the last few weeks, whether they deal with exemptions for public utility personal property taxes (SB 1031), or cuts to the Michigan Income Tax (HB 4001). Either of these bills would cut the state general fund by anywhere from $500 million to several billion dollars, a shift that would be crippling to state government operations.
There is some thought that outgoing Governor Snyder would not want the last piece of his legacy to be legislation that would erase eight years of efforts to solidify the state budget. Even though he is also a Lame Duck, his veto pen will be viable until January 31. Depending on the actions in Lansing over the next few weeks, he may have to use it.