It was a humdinger of an evening for term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, who vetoed perhaps the most-watched legislation on his plate. That was the bill that would have clamped down on the power of Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who will be the first Democrat to hold the office in 16 years.
“We are grateful to Gov. Snyder for demonstrating his integrity and commitment to upholding the Michigan Constitution,” said Nessel in a statement.
House Bill 6553, sponsored by Rep. Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker), drew comparisons to Republican measures in Wisconsin from the national media. The measure would have permitted the Legislature to side-step the attorney general and intervene in any case involving legislative matters without the presiding judge’s approval. This power previously has just been entrusted to the AG and governor.
Former Attorney General Mike Cox — who Snyder defeated in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary — wrote an op-ed over the weekend entreating his former rival to veto the “naked power grab by the Legislature.”
Legal experts warned the measure was unconstitutional, including Harvard law Professor Laurence Tribe and Sam Bagenstos, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2018.
Snyder appeared to share that concern in his veto letter and he noted that it would have hamstrung him if it was enacted while he was in office.
“While I understand and appreciate the desire for the legislature to have automatic standing to participate in litigation, I believe the current process has worked well to ensure the legislature’s position is considered,” he wrote. “Furthermore, were this legislation in place during my term as governor, I believe it would have limited my office’s ability to coordinate and manage the defense of the state in lawsuits.”
HB 6553 could have impacted the state’s process for handling future court fights involving health care, LGBTQ rights, environmental protection, the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers. All of these matters previously were handled by the AG, who serves as state government’s lawyer. But under the vetoed bill, either the House or Senate could have intervened.
Another bill blasted as a GOP power play that would have stripped incoming Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of her authority over campaign finance enforcement, fizzled in Lame Duck.
However, Snyder signed today a host of other big-ticket election and education bills.
That included restricting ballot initiatives, which was introduced and quickly passed in the GOP-controlled Legislature after progressives won big victories last month with proposals legalizing marijuana, establishing an independent redistricting commission and expanding voting rights.
House Bill 6595, sponsored by state Rep. James Lower (R-Cedar Lake), mandates that no more than 15 percent of signatures come from any one congressional district and that any signatures exceeding that would be considered “invalid.” The legislation also would require that paid petition gatherers indicate their paid status and register with the secretary of state.
Critics argued the bill hurts Michigan’s population bases in cities and suburbs, which tend to be both more ethnically diverse and Democratic strongholds.
But Snyder said he believes the new law “will promote geographic diversity in support of ballot proposals similar to the way gubernatorial candidates are required to have when they file for election.”
Groups from both the right and left opposed HB 6595: Right to Life of Michigan, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Michigan chapter, various unions and the Sierra Club.
State regulation restrictions
Snyder surprised many today by giving the stamp of approval to a bill similar to one he vetoed during his first year in office. Even conservative Detroit News editorial page Editor Nolan Finley urged Snyder to veto the latest version of the bill.
This bill nixes previous language barring departments from setting stricter standards where needed in any situation. Snyder said he felt comfortable with the revised bill since it wouldn’t hurt efforts to establish tough standards on lead or PFAS in water.
A-F education standards
Another bill that not surprisingly made the grade with Snyder was the A-F education standards. House Bill 5526, sponsored by state Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.), was one of the governor’s priorities in Lame Duck and he lobbied lawmakers at the Capitol on the last day of voting last week.
“Michigan’s parents and students deserve transparent and useful information regarding the successes and challenges of their local public schools. This legislation will enhance the information parents receive and empower involvement in their children’s education,” Snyder said in a statement.
Under the plan backed by charter school groups, schools would be graded in five separate areas: English and math proficiency on a state test, growth in English and math scores, growth among English language learners, high school graduation rates and academic performance compared to similar schools.
A plan to create a new education oversight commission that would have curbed Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s power was jettisoned to win votes for passage.
Michigan Department of Education interim Superintendent Sheila Alles came out against the legislation, arguing it “undermines two years of investment and stakeholder input” and could violate federal law.
The American Federation of Teachers and the Michigan Education Association also opposed the legislation, as well as administrators like Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) general superintendent.
Proposal 3 tweaks
Snyder signed off on Senate Bill 1238, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), which makes changes to the voting rights initiative, Proposal 3, which was approved by almost 67 percent of Michigan voters on Nov. 6 — the biggest win margin of the three initiatives on the ballot.
The most significant change to the proposal revolves around same-day voter registration. SB 1238 only allows that at a county clerk’s main office, rather than at polling locations or satellite clerk’s offices, as many other states allow.
Democrats are concerned that limiting the locations where people could register on the day of elections would particularly affect those in the state’s biggest cities. GOP officials, however, contend that with automatic registration, the vast majority of people will already be registered.
The Legislature has considered a host of alterations to the three initiatives voters approved on Nov. 6. Changes to Proposal 1 legalizing marijuana never mustered support. Legislation stalled fiddling with the independent redistricting commission called for by Proposal 2.