At each year’s end, it’s tradition around here for the Metro Times staff to look through its back issues in search of “the most dubious, foolhardy, baffling, hilarious, or just plain bad stories” to give them a special recognition. Though 2018 was by all accounts a raging dumpster fire from start to finish, it burned especially bright in December during the state legislature’s lame-duck session. That’s when Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature made national headlines on its way out the door as it attempted to push through a wave of controversial right-wing legislation — some of it designed to strip power from incoming Democrats after Dems swept statewide office races in the November elections.
The lame-duck session was such a shit show that we’re dedicating our entire year-end tribute to those ghouls who drew up these most unconstitutional, undemocratic, and diabolical laws.
Sen. Tom Casperson, Escanaba
The GOP lame-duck assault hit the environment hard, and it was Casperson who quarterbacked three important attacks on it. Still, Casperson told Bridge that he is not a “dastardly guy who wants to destroy the environment.” His bills suggest otherwise, however. One would have eliminated protected status for half of the state’s protected wetlands. That means about 70,000 wetlands totaling about 500,000 acres that would’ve been fair game for developers. Last-minute changes to the bill reduced those totals to a new unknown total. A second bill Casperson introduced allows landfills to accept fracking waste that’s up to 10 times more radioactive than what’s now permitted. It’s a gift to a landfill in Wayne County that wants to accept the waste from other states. Finally, he introduced legislation that will allow a foreign oil company to build a new oil pipeline through the Great Lakes. None of this should come as a big surprise since before the lame-duck session, Casperson — who used to run a logging company — authored a bill that gave the state’s polluters veto power over the government agency that’s supposed to be regulating them. What kind of guy wants to hand over the state’s wetlands to developers, drop highly radioactive fracking waste in Michigan’s most populous county, and let a foreign company build a pipeline through the Great Lakes? Perhaps a dastardly guy who wants to destroy the environment.
Sen. Dave Robertson, Grand Blanc
Sen. Robertson introduced one of the more flagrant lame-duck power grabs — a bill that would have stripped authority over campaign finance enforcement from incoming Democratic secretary of state Jocelyn Benson. Instead, that power would’ve been given to a new commission appointed by the legislature that would’ve been made up of three Republicans and three Democrats. The latter part is important because it would’ve taken a majority to approve any new campaign finance laws or enforce the rules. In essence, Robertson was baking in permanent gridlock. Why would he do that? Probably because he owed more than $1,600 in campaign finance violation fines and his former campaign treasurer and chief of staff is under investigation by the Michigan State Police for embezzlement and other campaign finance-related issues. Surprisingly, his bill proved to be too much for even Republicans to stomach, and it died in House committee after passing in the Senate.
Sen. Mike Shirkey, Clark Lake
Perhaps the most outrageous GOP lame-duck stunt came when the legislature made changes to the citizen-initiated laws that would’ve mandated paid sick time and raised the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022. Shirkey authored legislation that gutted the paid sick time law by exempting 1 million of the state’s 4 million workers and reducing the number of sick days workers would’ve received from nine to four. Shirkey also penned legislation that will help the GOP and some Dems protect their dark money donors. The law would make it a misdemeanor for anyone at a state agency to require nonprofits to disclose who donated money to it. This is a problem because nonprofits are behind some of the most obnoxious political ads and help shady politicians advance their political agenda without disclosing who is funding the advance.
Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, Lowell
Hildenbrand saw that some of Michigan’s lowest paid workers were about to get a raise and put his foot down. His legislation changes an increase in the minimum wage from $12 per hour by 2022 to $12.05 per hour by 2030. Adjusted for inflation, the change represents a decrease in the minimum wage, some economists say. Tipped workers were also set to see their wages rise to $12 per hour, but they will instead be capped at $4.58 per hour.
Rep. Rob VerHuelen, Walker
Walker penned a piece of legislation designed to strip power from incoming Democratic attorney general Dana Nessel that many legal experts say is the most blatant abuse of the Michigan Constitution’s separation of powers clause to come out of lame duck. The bill would allow the GOP-controlled legislature to intervene in legal cases in which residents challenge its unpopular laws. Why? Nessel has said she won’t defend Republican legislation that she sees as unconstitutional, such as one that allows adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. VerHuelen claims the legislature needs to be able to defend its laws, but he seems to be ignoring that it’s not the legislative branch’s job to enforce the laws and litigate — that power belongs to the executive branch, and the attorney general’s office.
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