Michigan senators make push for joint, bipartisan oversight committee

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Two Michigan state senators are pushing for a bipartisan, bicameral oversight committee in an effort to avoid the politics under the current setup, where the majority of positions on House and Senate oversight committees are occupied by the majority party. 

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, plan to introduce a joint resolution and bill to create the eight-member committee comprised of two Republican and two Democratic House members and two Republican and two Democratic senators. The members would be appointed by the majority and minority caucus leaders in both chambers. 

"Our current system of legislative oversight relies mostly on politics and the personal preference of committee chairs,” Irwin said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to the people of Michigan to investigate the functions of government no matter who the governor is and what party they represent."

Michigan State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, wants to create a bipartisan, bicameral oversight committee in a bid to "leave a mechanism in place to protect the people from unrestrained, partisan bureaucracy and executive branch power.”

McBroom and Irwin, chairman and minority vice chairman for Senate Oversight, respectively, said 11 other states have oversight systems that balance out partisan affiliation, ensuring that minority members have an equal voice on the committee. The combination of term limits and changes in partisan power make it essential to have stable and fair legislative oversight, McBroom said.

“We have taken some of the most robust methods from the states and are trying to adapt them to Michigan," McBroom said. "I hope this will leave a mechanism in place to protect the people from unrestrained, partisan bureaucracy and executive branch power.”

Over the past few years, the House and Senate oversight committees have focused on many of Michigan's more hot button issues such as the 2020 election, separation agreements between the governor and department heads, problems at the Unemployment Insurance Agency and various audits performed by the auditor general. 

The Republican-led oversight committees have at times been accused of partisanship since many of their reviews focus on the failings of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration.

The resolution, which is tie-barred to the legislation, would amend the state Constitution to include provisions for the joint oversight committees. The resolution would need two-thirds majority support in both chambers before it could be placed on the November ballot where voters would decide on the proposed change. 

McBroom said a review of other states' oversight processes indicated the states with the best structured systems that could weather changes in leadership were those with bipartisan, bicameral committees.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, wants to create a bipartisan, bicameral oversight committee because the "current system of legislative oversight relies mostly on politics and the personal preference of committee chairs."

"You’re not just going after the other side," he said. "You’re not ignoring the governor on your side. We want oversight to be a standard practice regardless of who's in power.”

Under the resolution language, the joint oversight committee would have the authority to request and receive reports from the auditor general, investigate government performance or finances or make policy suggestions based on those reviews. Under accompanying legislation, the committee may subpoena witness and examine state books and record. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com