Legislative Report as of December 2018
At the end of every two year legislative session, there is a period after the election results are tallied, but before the new elected officials are sworn into office. This period is known as the Lame Duck session, since it allows recently defeated or term-limited lawmakers to set policy for approximately six weeks. This year, the election results changed the power structure in Lansing starting January 1, and the individuals currently in office took extraordinary steps to cling to that power.
The sheer volume of legislation passed by the Michigan House and Senate over the past month has dwarfed all recent Lame Duck sessions. In fact, the Legislature passed more bills in the last four weeks of session than they had in the previous two years. The pace was so rapid that the House and Senate often worked well into the early morning hours voting on one bill after another. The Legislature finally adjourned on Friday, December 21 at approximately 8am.
Since then, Governor-elect Whitmer has made an increasing number of announcements about her new cabinet choices. She has also stated her intent to keep the Department of Health and Human Services intact, addressing rumors that she might decide to split it again into two separate departments. More on these issues and others below.
Bills Seeking to Hamstring Public Employee Unions Die
Among the myriad pieces of legislation that are heading to the Governor’s desk after the Lame Duck session, a pair of bills that would have created headaches for most public employee unions got left behind. One would have required automatic decertification elections every two years, and the other would have banned employer-paid union leave time. While the Civil Service Commission has already seriously curtailed employer-paid union leave time for state workers, automatic decertification elections would have created chaos and been very expensive to both unions and the state.
Senate Bill 796 would have banned employer-paid union leave time for most public employees in Michigan (police and fire were exempted). The bill narrowly passed the Senate but died due to lack of support on the House floor. Employer management groups were instrumental in killing the bill by testifying how the loss of voluntary arrangements for employer-paid union leave would severely complicate efforts to efficiently resolve grievances, disciplinary hearings and other day-to-day HR matters.
Public employers were also helpful in making sure that a bill creating mandatory decertification votes did not make it out of the Senate. Senate Bill 1260 was introduced after the election and would have required every public employee collective bargaining unit in Michigan to hold a mandatory decertification election every two years. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Arlen Meekhof (R-Olive Twp.) included police and fire units in the bill, so even groups like the Michigan Sheriff’s Association came out in strong opposition to the legislation. The bill would have required the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to certify thousands of elections every two years, something state officials said would require massive staffing increases.
Both of these bills are part of national efforts to hamstring and cripple public employee unions. It was not surprising that the language in SB 1260 was very similar to model legislation crafted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Fortunately, thanks to a unified lobbying effort from public employees and public employers alike, the bill never even came to a vote in the Senate.
Whitmer Announces Several Cabinet Appointees at End of 2018
The transition team for Governor-elect Whitmer has been one of the most disciplined in history in terms of keeping a lid on potential appointments. Normally by December, most of the incoming department heads, legislative aides and other key staff have already been announced. However, the Governor-elect waited until after the Legislature had ended the 2017-18 session to announce most of her new cabinet members. Even then, some of those announced are effectively temporary place-holders until a permanent decision is made early in 2019.
Governor Whitmer’s chief of staff will be JoAnn Huls, who previously has been on the staff of Senator Debbie Stabenow and was the former deputy chief of staff for Governor Jennifer Granholm. Shaquila Meyers, who currently serves as the legislative director for Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, will become chief of staff for Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist. Former State Treasurer Jay Rising will serve as Governor Whitmer’s cabinet secretary.
The position likely of most interest to state workers is the new director of the Office of the State Employer. Liza Estlund Olsen, currently the executive director of SEIU Local 517M and formerly the director of the Workforce Development Agency under Governor Granholm, will be named the OSE director.
Rachael Eubanks, currently a member of the Michigan Public Service Commission, will become the new State Treasurer. This will allow Governor-elect Whitmer to name two new members of the MPSC in 2019, since Commissioner Norm Saari’s term will also be expiring. Chris Kolb, a former state legislator and current president of the Michigan Environmental Council will be Whitmer’s Budget Director.
Other department heads named in late December include:
MDOC: Heidi Washington (currently serving as director)
MDOT: Paul Ajegba (currently a metro-region engineer in MDOT)
MDEQ: Liesl Eichler Clark (currently the co-founder of 5 Lakes Energy, an environmental policy firm. She was a former deputy director in the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth)
MDNR: Daniel Eichenger (currently executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs)
DTMB: Tricia Foster (formerly a senior executive at a financial services firm and the campaign treasurer for the Whitmer for Governor Campaign)
MDARD: Gary McDowell (former state representative and current operator of McDowell Brothers Farm)
MSP: Captain Joe Gasper (currently emergency manager for the department)
DMVA: Brigadier General Paul Rogers (currently the deputy commander of the 46th
Military Police Command)
LARA: Orlene Hawks (currently director of the Office of Children’s Ombudsman)
DIFS: Anita Fox (currently a private practice attorney)
One of the few appointments not yet named is for the state’s largest department, DHHS. Governor-elect Whitmer announced on December 28 that current deputy director Farah Hanley will step in as the interim director on January 1 until a permanent new appointment is made. Whitmer also plans to create at least one new department, the Department of Great Lakes and Fresh Water. It is yet to be determined how current operations will be divided and which agencies will fall under the new department’s portfolio.