Part-time Legislature alters constitution, group says

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A state board on Wednesday will consider whether to approve Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s petition for a part-time Legislature to be circulated for signatures.

But even as Calley moves ahead with his plan to slash the number of days lawmakers would work in Lansing amid a likely gubernatorial bid, another group is saying the plan could mean substantial changes to the state constitution and where political power is concentrated.

Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group, in a Friday letter to Elections Director Chris Thomas detailed concern that the plan could cede more power to the governor and make it less likely for citizen-driven ballot initiatives to make it into law.

“The proposed amendment would alter at least two provisions of the 1963 Constitution, affecting the balance of powers between the Legislature and executive, the powers of initiative held by the citizens and the ability of the governor to veto and the Legislature to avoid a veto,” Anderson wrote in the letter, also sent to the secretary of the State Board of Canvassers.

A petition that would alter sections of the constitution must explicitly state what sections it seeks to change.

The Bureau of Elections also questioned the legality of the plan last week before OK’ing it later.

Schuette and Calley, both Republicans, are expected to announce their competing bids for governor.

Calley disagrees that it would modify the constitution.

The part-time plan is meant to streamline the legislative process and lead to “better laws because it ensures legislators live most of their lives under the laws they make,” Calley said during the Mackinac Policy Conference in May. It could also boost his popularity in some conservative circles where the part-time idea has been gaining traction.

Calley’s “Clean Michigan Government” plan would amend the state constitution to limit the Legislature to meeting for 90 session days consecutively, rather than spliced throughout the year.

That could “substantially alter” lawmakers’ ability to adopt voter-driven policy initiatives because the time frame they could present it to the Legislature — within a state-required 40 day period — grows significantly slimmer if they’re in session for fewer days of the year, Anderson argues.

“Citizens that initiate laws would therefore have the power to simply delay submitting petitions until it was too late for the Legislature to consider them, thus bypassing the current intention of allowing the Legislature to consider it,” he wrote.

In 2006, Anderson authored and circulated a petition to repeal the Single Business Tax and offered it to the Legislature to consider after scraping together 291,000 signatures. Lawmakers then voted to approve it and it became law that year.

If Calley’s part-time schedule had been in place then, Anderson couldn’t have propelled it into state law because they wouldn’t have been in session.

A part-time schedule could also cede more power to the governor by narrowing the time period in which the Legislature can override a governor’s veto of a Legislature-approved bill by garnering two-thirds support in both the House and Senate.

That could make it extremely unlikely to override a veto, Anderson argues.

“We need a veto power ... we need the power of the citizens to adopt laws. And I care about that a lot, which is why I sent the letter,” he said.