Hundreds of bills await action as Snyder's term winds down

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder addresses the crowd.

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has less than a week left to sign or veto hundreds of proposed laws pushed through by legislators in the final weeks of the lame duck legislative session.

The term-limited governor will cede power to Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer at noon Tuesday, leaving Snyder a narrow window in which to weigh in on several controversial pieces of legislation.

The deliberation process could continue through the weekend, depending on how quickly Snyder’s office receives and reviews the bills before deciding on their fate, said Snyder’s spokesman Ari Adler.

While the outgoing GOP governor likely will pick policy change over structural change, his final decisions on most bills are difficult to predict, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic consultant at Grassroots Midwest.

“We have reached this really interesting period, partly because this governor is a bit of an enigma, especially to this Legislature, but also because of the sheer volume of bills that were passed,” Hemond said.

Among the dozens of bills on Snyder’s desk is a bill reducing the window of time in which to pursue criminal campaign finance charges, a proposed law that would allow parents to surrender a newborn in a “baby box,” a bill that would allow the Legislature to intervene in court cases, a shift in toxic site cleanup criteria and a scaled-back plan to deregulate small Michigan wetlands, streams and inland lakes.

The governor also will decide on proposed laws making it more difficult to conduct a petition drive, a roughly $1.3 billion spending supplemental, and a bill that would make it harder for department heads to develop rules stricter than federal guidelines, a policy similar to one vetoed by Snyder in 2011.

Last week, at the end of a lame duck session that produced more than 400 bills, Snyder vetoed his first four, including one that would have allowed the auditor general access to confidential information in state agencies.

Snyder called the bill “an unconstitutional overreach” that would blur the line between “the legislative and other branches.”

The decision could be an indicator of what’s to come for other bills that seem to challenge the authority of the courts and the incoming Democratic administration, namely a "legislative intervention" bill that would allow the House and Senate to intervene in court cases without the approval of a judge.

Snyder's decision on several environmental bills, including one that would alter the state's cleanup criteria for contaminated sites, also is somewhat unclear. The governor, who pushed for increased funding for environmental cleanups in recent months, also heard from roughly 80 DEQ employees who said the new criteria would weaken current standards and handcuff incoming officials.  

The fate of legislation that would limit the number of petition drive signatures that could be collected in any single congressional district also seems dubious, Hemond said. 

Bill Rustem is a former adviser to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Snyder’s former top adviser Bill Rustem said the proposed rules would make signature-gathering difficult, especially in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan. In a letter to Snyder, he urged the governor to “preserve ‘government of, by, and for the people.’”

“That one seems like the sort of thing the governor would look askance at,” Hemond said. “It’s a pretty big change to make on the way out the door.”

Snyder could line-item veto parts of the large supplemental spending bill, including the $115 million in Michigan Enhancement Grants largely used for pet projects in the districts of some legislators.

While the governor could veto a couple of those projects, it's likely some are tied to deals made with Snyder during the legislative process, Hemond said.

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