The lame duck Legislature’s decision in December to water down the successful petition drive aimed at boosting Michigan’s minimum wage may be heading to the courts.
State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, is seeking an attorney general’s opinion on Republican lawmakers’ so-called “adopt and amend” approach toward the minimum wage increase and a second petition drive, a referendum that would have guaranteed paid sick leave for all full-time Michigan workers. Chang asserts that the legislative moves violated the state Constitution.
At the same time, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in her State of the State Address on Tuesday, vowed to block any future attempts by the Legislature to side-track the petition process. “I will veto bills designed to cut out the public’s right of referendum,” Whitmer said.
The 2018 referendum campaigns for the minimum wage and sick leave were legally evaded by the Legislature in September, when the proposals were adopted into law rather than placed on the November ballot. Both petition drives had collected about 400,000 signatures and both proposals had strong public support, according to polls, heading into the November election.
Just a few months after making them law, GOP lawmakers, with high-powered backing from business groups, engaged in a sleight-of-hand by substantially weakening both measures in the end-of-the-year lame duck session.
That set a precedent that supporters of the two proposals said had “gutted” the intent of their petition drives.
The state House and Senate overhauled the minimum wage measure so that the proposed $12 minimum will not kick in for 12 years, rather than the petition drive’s plan for a gradual increase to that level in 2022. The December bill also eliminates adjustments for inflation so that the state’s current $9.25 hourly wage would likely amount to no increase at all for workers when a $12.05 mark would take effect in 2030.
As for the earned-benefit for sick leave, the ballot proposal would have guaranteed all workers up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, based on hours worked. But the lame duck bill provided an exclusion that would apply to any small company with fewer than 50 employees — more than 160,000 Michigan businesses that collectively employ more than 1 million workers. Additional exemptions approved by lawmakers in December meant that an estimated 55 percent of all Michigan workers will be excluded.
“The people of Michigan deserve to have a clear understanding of what their rights are when petitioning the state to enact or change laws,” Chang said in a statement earlier today.
Nessel responded: “We will carefully evaluate this request and encourage all interested parties to submit written comments on this issue to us at email@example.com, Attention: Opinions Division, no later than March 6, 2019 so that we may include them in our considerations.”
An attorney general’s opinion by Nessel rejecting the Legislature’s methods would almost certainly face a court challenge.