Legislative Report - December 2023
On November 14, the Michigan House and Senate adjourned for the year, making it the earliest “sine die” in decades. It did not come as a surprise, as rumors of an early adjournment have been swirling in Lansing since before the summer recess. However, it is certainly a unique event, making the remainder of the year much quieter in the Capitol than is usual.
The rationale for the early adjournment is so that a number of bills that did not receive sufficient votes to be granted “immediate effect” would take effect earlier than they would if the Legislature had adjourned on its usual late December date. One in particular that gets most of the attention is the change to the Michigan Presidential Primary date that moves it up to February. If the Legislature had not adjourned early, that bill would have been meaningless for the upcoming presidential election.
Another factor in the decision was the outcome of two key mayoral races on November 7. Representatives Lori Stone (D-Warren) and Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) were both elected mayor of their hometowns and will have to resign from the Michigan House before the end of the year. This means that the current 56-54 majority in the House will become a 54-54 tie, at least until a special election can be called to fill those vacancies. Both of the House seats are in Democratic districts so there is a low risk of a partisan change in the House. However, many of the key pieces of legislation that House Democratic leaders hope to move in the coming year will be unlikely to win any Republican support. Therefore, much of the House agenda will await the outcome of the special elections which could be as late as next May.
Efforts to Offer Better Pension Options to State and School Workers Teed up for 2024
This year, Senators John Cherry (D-Flint), Kristen McDonald-Rivet (D-Bay City) and Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.) introduced a package of bills that would allow certain state workers to opt into the Michigan State Police Retirement System. Those bills were voted out of the Senate Labor Committee in September, but are awaiting the outcome of an actuarial study before they can move any further. Section 20h of PA 314 states that a system must provide an actuarial analysis before the adoption of pension benefit changes. Funding was appropriated in the FY 2024 budget to provide for such an actuarial study.
The Legislative Service Bureau is also working on bill drafts that would reopen the Michigan State Employees Retirement System for all state employees, and also add the Member Investment Plan in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System as an option for new and current MPSERS members. These bills, if passed, would provide a defined benefit option for state workers who have not had one since 1997, and for public school employees who have only had a hybrid option since 2010.
Working with national allies such as the National Public Pension Coalition and the National Institute for Retirement Studies, pro-pension groups in Michigan hope to use the early part of 2024 to educate lawmakers and the public about the connection between diminished retirement benefits and the critical staffing shortage plaguing many parts of the public sector. They hope to be able to make a strong case that restoring defined benefit pension options will not only help alleviate these staffing shortages, but they will provide a longer-term glide path for the state to pay off existing unfunded pension liabilities. Moreover, because the annual cost of a defined benefit pension similar to the old MSERS or MPSERS plans are actually cheaper than the current defined contribution plans, the state can use those savings to pay off existing liabilities even faster.
Working People Made Strong Gains in 2023 Legislation; More to do in 2024
Right to Work, repealed. Prevailing Wage, restored. Pension tax, repealed. Public school collective bargaining rights, restored. PA 54 (prohibition on step increases for public employees while contracts are expired), repealed. These were some of the headline victories for working families this year. Other victories included positive labor gains in other areas such as language in the clean energy package that will make it more likely that new green jobs will go to unionized workers. After decades of one union-busting law after another, labor made up some of those losses this past year.
However, pro-worker advocacy groups also learned that a razor-thin Democratic majority in both chambers is far from a lay-down hand. Several major initiatives that would roll back cuts to unemployment benefits, undo harmful changes on workers compensation benefits, and of course reverse major losses to public sector pensions have yet to be even introduced this session. There is a sense among some legislative leaders that pro-union groups are getting everything they really need and that any further wins will be harmful in protecting the narrow House majority in 2024.
It is clear that working families and organized labor have several strong allies in the Democratic Legislative caucuses. It has also become clear that, unless pro-worker organizations can win some support among Republican lawmakers, they must win over each and every member of the Democratic caucuses individually and obtain direct commitments to support specific goals. For example, efforts to provide improved retirement options for state employees will need to target every member of the Legislature and address the concerns of each individual member. This will be a daunting task, but the goal of providing real pension options for MAGE members hired after 1997 is worth the work.