GOP wants Michigan Supreme Court to rule on minimum wage, paid sick leave moves

Protesters demonstrate in front of the McDonald's on Woodward near Canfield during a protest supporting a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and demanding a union at fast-food restaurants on Oct. 2, 2018.

Lansing — Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature plans to ask the state Supreme Court for a legal ruling on its own controversial move to adopt and then amend minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives in the same session, leaders said Tuesday.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder in December signed lame-duck legislation that weakened both initiatives, which GOP lawmakers had adopted in September to keep them off the November general election ballot

The request for a Supreme Court ruling could stave off future lawsuits and comes one week after state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, asked Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel to review and issue an opinion on the legality of the adopt-and-amend maneuver.

“The hard-working men and women of Michigan deserve better than elected officials inserting uncertainty into the law-making process in an effort to raise their own political profiles,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said in a statement.

“Our state laws impact the daily lives of every Michigander. The Senate and House would rather take this constitutional question directly to the justices and see swift action than wait out a protracted legal dispute.”

The Michigan Senate is expected to adopt a resolution Wednesday authorizing Shirkey to retain legal counsel and formally request the Supreme Court opinion, which the court is not obligated to provide. Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, introduced a similar resolution Tuesday.

Cole said he’s confident the Legislature’s policy was legal but made the request to bypass a drawn out opinion, lawsuit and appeal process. The House is expected to vote on the measure Wednesday.

“We’re going to skip over the political gamesmanship and the cost and the timeline and I’m asking the Supreme Court directly for a determination on what we did in the 99th legislature,” Cole said.

At issue is whether the Michigan Legislature can adopt and amend citizen-initiated legislation in the same two-year session. The Republican-led Legislature took the unprecedented action last year after then-Attorney General Bill Schuette gave his legal blessing.

Schuette had reversed a 1964 legal opinion from then-Attorney General Frank Kelly, a Democrat, who said adopting and amending an initiative in the same session would violate the “the spirit and letter” of the initiative process.

In requesting a new opinion from Nessel, Chang last week argued that the GOP amendments "subverted the will of nearly 400,000 Michigan citizens who signed the petitions and is possibly unconstitutional."

Nessel's office said it would “carefully evaluate the request” and asked interested parties to submit comments on the issue by March 6.

In a statement Tuesday, ballot committee MI Time to Care doubled down on arguments that the Legislature's "adopt and amend" scheme was unconstitutional. Democratic Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Brownston Township echoed the belief and said Tuesday's resolution is proof that Republicans have their own misgivings about their actions last fall. 

"Democrats have no doubts that gutting these laws was not only undemocratic but unconstitutional, and we welcome the input of the Supreme Court and Attorney General Nessel so we can end this debate and get back to work for the people of Michigan," Camilleri said. 

Organizers collected hundreds of thousands of petition signatures to send the paid sick leave and minimum wage proposals to the Legislature, which has constitutional authority to adopt initiatives within 40 days or allow them to go to the ballot.

The Michigan Constitution also gives the Legislature or governor the ability to request a legal opinion from the Supreme Court “on important questions of law upon solemn occasions as to the constitutionality of legislation after it has been enacted into law but before its effective date."

The amended minimum wage and sick leave laws are set to take effect on March 29. 

"I would encourage the Supreme Court to act relatively quickly on this and come to the determination that it was constitutional," Cole said. 

Snyder asked the high court for several legal opinions during his eight-year tenure, but justices are often wary to weigh in. The court in 2011 granted Snyder’s request to review a so-called pension tax law before it took effect in 2012, but justices rejected subsequent requests for opinions on the state’s right-to-work law in 2013 and funding for private school reimbursements in 2016.

Under the revised law, 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 exempt more than 160,000 small businesses that collectively employ more than 1 million workers from a mandate that would have otherwise applied to every company in the state.