Late votes in House, Senate send weakened minimum wage and sick time bills to gov. desk

Bomb threat near Capitol prompts some evacuations, scene cleared shortly after. (WWMT/File)

Starkly different versions of legislation to raise the minimum wage and create policies for paid sick time will be headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk after getting passed by the House and Senate late Tuesday.

Tuesday morning, a House committee took up the plans and gave them the green light to continue to the full House. The move came after a lengthy House Floor Session that wrapped up after 7 p.m. following more than two hours of speeches from representatives.

Nonetheless, the House passed Senate Bills 1171 and 1175, but not before last minute changes were introduced; effectively sending them back to the Senate for final approval before heading to the governor’s desk. Senators gave the final push to the bills after receiving the changes from the House.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said after discussions with Snyder, he is confident the bills will be signed that weaken the original proposals that more than 800,000 Michiganders signed.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said he is not pleased with what happened in Lansing and is disappointed in the governor, if he signs the bills.

“If that’s the legacy he wants to leave voters than I think a lot of these bills are going to be signed then, it’s unfortunate,” Ananich said.

Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for Speaker Tom Leonard, said after discussions with Sndyer, the minimum wage would be increased to $12.05 instead of $12 by 2030.

D’Assandro said that the tipped wage maximum would increase as well under the proposed changes. According to SB 1171, tipped workers would receive an increase in their wages, capped at $4 an hour by 2030. After conversations with other lawmakers, said D’Assandro, that maximum wage would instead be capped at $4.58 per hour.

Senate Bill 1171, sponsored by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Grand Rapids, slows down that increase. The amendment would slow the planned bump in wages from $9.25 to $12 per hour; originally happen by 2022 under the citizen-initiated plan, but will not happen until at least 2030.

Senate Bill 1175, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, amends the earned sick time initiative; this bill goes on to change the one hour earned for every 40 hours worked and caps time off at 36 hours annually.

“While I am not surprised at the actions taken by legislative Republicans, I am disappointed that they would rather prioritize corporate profits and betray the people of Michigan in such a blatant fashion,” said Rep. Sylvia Santana of Detroit.

The changes introduced Tuesday alter Shirkey’s numbers, as well. D’Assandro said the changes were borne out of discussions with legislators in both the House and Senate.

The new change includes language that goes back to some of the original plans; employers must offer up to 40 hours per year, the accrual rate would go to one hour earned for every 35 hours worked, clarifies that tipped employees would be paid at least the same as minimum wage when using earned sick time, and says that employees would have three days to provide a doctor’s note to employer.

The sentiments were echoed among most Democratic Representatives who gave speech on the floor. House Democratic Floor Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills said it’s time people set aside “corporate interest and focus on polices that lift people out of poverty, not drive them into it.”

These bills were originally passed in September by the legislature instead of heading to the November ballot with the intention of later changing the language. Bills were introduced two days following the 2018 midterm election to make changes.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, a group behind both initiatives, slammed the legislature for actions taken Tuesday.

“Workers’ rights and needs are too often overlooked by legislative leaders, especially those at the low end of the wage scale who are barely getting by, and instead of following the lead of what the people want and offering these much-needed supports, the Senate snatched away what little hope they had,” said President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs. “Low-paid workers are yet again getting left behind by the Senate action today while deep-pocketed business interests yet again get exactly what they want.”

Final House vote tallies for SB 1171 and SB 1175 were 60 to 48 with three GOP Representatives siding with the entire Democratic Caucus. Republican Representatives Joseph Bellino of Monroe, Martin Howrylak of Troy and Jeff Yaroch of Richmond all voted against these bills. Senator Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights was the lone Republican to vote no on both bills.

“I voted against both of these bills because they violate the spirit of the constitutionally defined citizens’ initiative process,” Howrylak said in a statement following the vote. “They circumvent the voters and defy logic."

Legality of these votes

The question of whether lawmakers have the authority to adopt legislation and later amend them in the same session has been brought forward multiple times since these two pieces of legislation were introduced two days following the 2018 midterm election.

Those against the bills, mostly democrats, hang their hat on a 1964 opinion issued by then-Attorney General Frank Kelley. In the opinion, Kelley stated it was unconstitutional to adopt and amend and such changes needed to wait until the next session.

Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said prior to the House vote that Kelley’s opinion has set the precedent for the last half a century.

“For 50 years that has been the law of the land and suddenly at the last minute you have republicans again trying to steal power once they’ve lost an election,” he said. This last-minute smash and grab is indicative of their complete disregard of the constitution, the laws of our land and quite frankly of the voters of the state.”

After the Senate voted on these bills last week, Meekhof argued Kelley’s opinion had no standing.

“There is nothing in the constitution that prohibits us from this kind of action,” he said. “Attorney General Kelley’s Opinion from 50 years ago doesn’t even reference a case, doesn’t reference the constitution, it’s just his opinion.”

Monday, current Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, issued an opinion on this same topic that contradicts Kelley’s opinion. According to Schuette, “the Michigan Constitution does not prohibit the Legislature from amending a legislatively enacted initiated law during the same legislative session in which the Legislature enacted the initiated law.”

Meekhof said he asked Schuette to issue an opinion "several months ago."

Ananich said he views the move as a set up for future litigation.

“I think they are trying to set up a case, a lot of these things are going to go to court and they are trying to do the best they can to have a strong argument,” he said.

Backers of the paid sick time initiative, MI Time to Care, said it is prepared to take legal action to protect Michigan’s sick time law, but offered no timeline on anything.

The group also said it will turn around and ensure this issue is put on the 2020 ballot.

The original story has been updated to include AG Schuette's opinion and additional quotes.

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