A low-profile state representative from Macomb County quietly has called for a far more dramatic change to the Michigan Legislature than the potential reform promoted by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley to cut the Legislature to part-time status or the pending ballot proposal that would end gerrymandering of legislative district boundaries.
Rep. Jeff Yaroch, a freshman Republican from Richmond, has introduced a joint resolution in Lansing that would create a unicameral legislature, eliminating the Senate and turning the 110-member House into a singular, nonpartisan body. The Yaroch legislation – a state constitutional amendment requiring voter approval — would also dramatically alter the state’s term limits and, potentially, its redistricting process.
Under Yaroch’s resolution, inspired by the latest attempt to create a part-time legislature, the general election winners to a single, 110-seat legislative chamber in 2018 or later, would serve up to four 4-year terms, 16 in all. Representation would be staggered – the first terms for half the Legislature would be two years and extend to a maximum of 16 years.
You can watch Yaroch’s explanation of his plan on video here.
The legislation attempts to minimize anticipated political opposition, especially in the Senate, by creating a start-over point. The 16-year limit would being anew for all Senate and House members.
Currently, Michigan’s 38 senators are limited to two 4-year terms and its 110 representatives to three 2-year terms.
Of the 50 states, only Nebraska employs a unicameral legislature (elected on a nonpartisan basis). But the other states also do not broadly adhere to the federal concept of a lower chamber, the House, based on equal population, and an upper chamber, based on geography — two senators per state, regardless of size.
A comparable design in state legislatures would likely consist of an apportioned House and a state Senate seat for each county. In Michigan, that amounts to 110 state House seats and 83 state Senate seats.
The Yaroch plan mimics, in part, a state ballot proposal suggested in 2010 by Steve Harry of Lansing, a retired state employee and a political blogger. Harry’s Committee to Transform Michigan (the website still exists) would have implemented many more reforms but its attempt to gain ballot access through a petition drive failed.
Yaroch, a former 17-year member of the (nonpartisan) Richmond City Council and a veteran firefighter/paramedic, also seeks to revamp the once-a-decade legislative redistricting process by limiting district boundaries strictly to equal population.
It requires no standards calling for square, compact district territories. It’s unclear how that would affect gerrymandering and the highly partisan squiggly lines that currently encompass many House and Senate districts.
In response to the beleaguered attempt by Calley to launch a “cost-saving” initiative to switch to a part-time legislature – the Clean Michigan petition drive that could lead to a 2018 ballot proposal – Yaroch said he, too, is interested in chopping expenditures for the state’s legislative branch.
However, like the Clean MI plan announced by Calley — a likely GOP gubernatorial candidate to emerge in the coming months — the idea that cutting the Legislature’s budget will benefit Michigan taxpayers is a widespread fallacy. Yaroch’s unicameral overhaul anticipates a $50 million annual savings, which amounts to a reduction of about one-half of 1 percent in the state’s General Fund budget.