Michigan Supreme Court says it’s too late to rule on GOP minimum wage, sick leave maneuvers

Michigan Supreme Court | Nick Manes

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of the GOP-led “adopt and amend” tactic used last year to water down legislation for paid sick time and minimum wage increases.  

In July, the issue was brought to the Supreme Court through oral arguments from both sides, but the court decided on Wednesday that releasing an opinion would not be an “appropriate exercise of the Court’s discretion.” 

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court said it lacks jurisdiction to issue an opinion after the effective date, when the laws had already passed and taken effect. The effective date was March 29.

Attorneys spar over Legislature’s ‘adopt and amend’ move on minimum wage, paid sick leave initiatives

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) told the Michigan Advance he supported the court’s Wednesday decision.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

“I consider it good news. What we did was lawful and I’m glad to see that others are in agreement,” Chatfield said before a President Trump rally in Battle Creek. 

But the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which opposed both ballot measures, wasn’t as pleased, with lobbyist Wendy Block saying another legal battle likely looms.

“Although we respect the Court’s autonomy and ability to decline to issue an advisory opinion in this matter, the Court has opened the door to a much longer legal process that is likely to be fraught with unnecessary confusion, cost and political rhetoric,” said Block in a statement. “The Court’s inaction will likely trigger a new round of litigation, meaning this issue might end up back in their laps at a later date.”

Michigan Chamber of Commerce | Susan J. Demas

The Michigan Chamber was among the parties that asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of Michigan’s new laws.

“Unfortunately, Michigan’s employers and employees did not get the answers or certainty they were looking for from the Court,” Executive Vice President Jim Holcomb said.

Last year, there were two citizen-initiated ballot proposals for minimum wage and paid sick leave that collected enough signatures to get on the ballot. 

But in September 2018, both the House and Senate adopted the initiatives, MI Time to Care and One Fair Wage, so they didn’t go on the statewide November 2018 ballot, where they were expected to pass.

The ballot initiatives would have mandated employer-paid sick time to 72 hours per year and raised the minimum wage from its current rate of $9.25 per hour to $12 per hour by 2022.

Snyder signs neutered minimum wage, sick time bills

During the final days of the Lame Duck session, lawmakers passed legislation that altered the measures significantly, which resulted in a minimum wage of $12 per hour by 2030 and mandated only 40 hours of employer-paid sick time. Then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed the watered-down bills.

At the time of the oral arguments, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who manages the state’s litigation, argued that the legislation’s adopt and amend strategy thwarted the voice of the voters.

“This would create a permanent escape route for the Legislature [and] for the people to never get their voice through initiative power on to a ballot if adopt and amend is upheld,” Hammoud said.

This comes at a time where two anti-abortion ballot initiatives are circulating throughout Michigan. Several House Democrats have voiced concern that the GOP-led tactic could be used again to restrict these initiatives from becoming law in their current form.

House Dems want to ensure the Legislature stays out of citizen-led initiatives

“Allowing the Legislature to exert its political will on the ballot initiative process undermines the core [tenets] of our democracy,” said state Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) in a press conference last week. 

Stone, state Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) and state Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) are backing a joint resolution that would allow all successful initiatives to go straight to the voters.

Advance reporter Nick Manes contributed to this story.