Lawmaker wants AG opinion on weakening of sick leave, minimum wage initiatives

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit

Lansing — State Sen. Stephanie Chang has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a new opinion on the Legislature’s adoption and amendment of two ballot initiatives during the late 2018 lame duck session.

Chang, D-Detroit, said Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s ruling on the “adopt and amend” strategy last year “poses serious threats to the constitutional power of initiative reserved to the people.”

“What the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature did to the minimum wage and paid sick leave citizen-led initiatives subverted the will of nearly 400,000 Michigan citizens who signed the petitions and is possibly unconstitutional,” Chang said in a statement.

Nessel’s office said it will “carefully evaluate the request” and asked interested parties to submit comments on the issue by March 6 to, ATT: Opinions Division.

MI Time to Care, the ballot committee that pushed for the earned sick leave proposal, applauded the request from Chang, calling the Legislature’s actions a “clear violation of Michigan’s Constitution.”

“We are hopeful Attorney General Nessel will issue an opinion reaffirming the right of people to use ballot measures to pass important policies like earned paid sick time without legislative obstruction,” said committee co-chair Danielle Atkinson.

The Michigan One Fair Wage committee also supported the request to review the Legislature's action, which the committee said "subverts the democratic process" and is "a slap in the face of voters."

Schuette issued a legal opinion in early December that said it was constitutional for the GOP-led Legislature to adopt paid sick leave and minimum wage initiatives to keep them off the ballot, only to amend them later within the same session.

The Michigan Constitution does not prohibit the Legislature from amending an initiated law during the same two-year session in which the Legislature adopted it, Schuette said. It contradicted and superseded a 1964 legal opinion from Democratic then-Attorney General Frank Kelley.

The paid sick leave and minimum wage initiatives were slated for the Nov. 6 ballot before the Republican-led Michigan House and Senate adopted them.

As revised, Michigan’s minimum wage will increase from $9.25 to $12.05 per hour by 2030, slowing the march to $12 by 2022 called for in the initiative. The minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers will rise to $4.58 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2024.

The paid sick leave law will require companies with 50 or more employees to give them up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year, less than the 72 hours envisioned in the initiative. Employees can accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked instead of every 30 hours worked.

In her request to Nessel, a Plymouth Democrat, Chang argued that the state Constitution prohibits the enactment and amendment of an initiative petition in the same legislative session. She asked Nessel to address that question and whether the Legislature’s action last year was in violation of the Constitution.

“The people of Michigan deserve to have a clear understanding of what their rights are when petitioning the state to enact or change laws,” Chang said.

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